If you thought U.S. hip-hop's notorious East Coast vs. West Coast controversy was lethal, you obviously haven't checked out West Bank gangsta rap. "Dear God, I wish you could come down, because I'm being persecuted," spits right-wing Israeli rap megastar Subliminal. "My enemies are united / They want to destroy me / We're nurturing and arming those who hate us / Enough!" Subliminal's rivalry with his former protégé, Palestinian rapper Tamer Nafar, is the subject of Channels of Rage, which will screen at the Houston Jewish Film Festival, opening this week.
Marian Luntz, film and video curator for the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, says it's high time Houston got its own Jewish film fest. "We were actually one of the few major cities worldwide that didn't already host one," she says. "The Jewish Community Center has had a biennial screening of Jewish-themed films for years. We thought by combining the museum's forces with those of the JCC and using that word festival," Luntz adds, "we could get more people to sit up and pay attention." She promises a wide variety of documentaries, shorts and dramatic features dealing with "Israelis' issues, the diaspora, the holocaust and other major Jewish themes."
Two emotionally loaded documentaries explore the Jewish conflict through family drama. Hiding and Seeking depicts filmmaker Menachem Daum's attempts to get through to his ultraconservative, anti-Christian separatist sons by arranging for them to meet the Polish family who saved their grandfather's life during the holocaust. There's also Divan, an offbeat detective story following formerly Hassidic director Pearl Gluck's attempt to make amends with her orthodox father by seeking out a religiously significant piece of lost furniture.
Another documentary, Watermarks, tells the story of a championship Jewish female swim team from Vienna whose gender and religion prevented them from competing in the 1936 Olympics in Germany (where African-American Jesse Owens stomped Aryan butt).
One of the most highly anticipated movies appearing at the festival is Suzie Gold, a "lighter film, a sort of Big Fat Greek Wedding-esque comedy set in a London Jewish community," says the JCC's Jennifer Handy. It follows the adventures of Suzie, who has a younger sister who's getting married, an overbearing mother pressuring her to wed and a crush on a sexy gentile. "This movie has been extremely popular, and there are no plans to release it commercially," adds Handy, "so this might be your only chance."
Another film of note: the "holocaust love story" Gloomy Sunday, a German-Hungarian co-production in which three men fall in love with the same woman. The title comes from the infamous, much-recorded song to a dead lover, which was reputed to have inspired numerous suicides in the '30s and '40s with cheery lyrics such as "angels have no thought of ever returning you / would they be angry if I thought of joining you?"
Finally, for film buffs craving a little more horseradish with their pastrami and rye, there's director Eytan Fox's edgy, hard-boiled thriller Walk on Water, in which a homophobic Israeli assassin goes under cover as a tour guide and befriends the unwitting gay grandson of a fugitive Nazi war criminal. Oy gevalt!