The best entries in this year's Jewish Film Festival of Dallas, opening its 19th season Sunday, are all about love: improbable love, Romeo and Juliet-like love, old vs. young love.
This is a festival with an extensive pedigree. Its sponsor, the Jewish Community Center of Dallas, should be proud of its rich history of exploring questions of identity that surround both the culture and religion of the Jewish experience.
A documentary, The Outrageous Sophie Tucker, showing Sept. 20, is a guaranteed crowd-pleaser that may well emerge as the hit of the festival. "The last of the red-hot mamas," Tucker was a vaudeville and night club superstar.
And yet, and yet ... This year's festival offerings lack the boldness and raw power of previous years. There is nothing as compelling as The Green Prince, a 2014 festival entry about the son of a founding member of Hamas being "turned" by the Israeli Mossad. And, certainly, there is nothing as remotely controversial as Lemon Tree, a past festival entry that explored Israeli-Palestinian issues from the Arab perspective.
Still, the festival puts points on the board with cinematic offerings that linger in the memory like an old sweet song. Here's a sampling:
Blue Tattoo: Dina's Story, Joe's Song is a documentary about a Holocaust survivor and a caring songwriter who puts her story to music. Sunday, 3:30 p.m., Zale Auditorium, JCC Dallas. Free preview.
Is That You?, which scored a nomination for best film at the 2014 Israeli Academy (Ophir) awards, is an endearing romantic comedy. Tuesday, 7 p.m., Studio Movie Grill-Spring Valley.
The Last Mentsch survived a concentration camp, then spends his postwar years spurning his Jewish identity. Now that he's old, he longs to be buried in a Jewish cemetery. Thursday, 7 p.m., Studio Movie Grill-Spring Valley.
Apples From the Desert earned nominations at last year's Ophir Awards for best supporting actress, best supporting actor and costume design and won the audience award at both the San Diego and Atlanta Jewish film festivals. A Sephardic woman grows weary of being the only child of strictly Orthodox parents. Sept. 12, 9 p.m., Angelika Plano (apple pastry for dessert).
Vice-Versa muses: Is it possible to leave the past behind? Sept. 16, 7 p.m., Studio Movie Grill-Spring Valley.
Aya won best short feature film at the 2013 Ophir Awards. A woman agrees to a chauffeur's request to hold his sign while he walks outside to move his car. Sparks fly. Sept. 16, 8 p.m., Studio Movie Grill-Spring Valley.
Paradise Cruise introduces us to Dora, a French photographer obsessed with documenting the funerals of Israeli soldiers. Sept. 19, 9 p.m., Angelika Plano.
The Outrageous Sophie Tucker includes cameos by Tony Bennett, Bette Midler, Michael Feinstein and Barbara Walters, whose father was one of Tucker's first employers. Sept. 20, noon, Studio Movie Grill-Spring Valley.
A Borrowed Identity (a.k.a. Dancing Arabs) captured four Ophir nominations in 2014. Eyad is the only Arab student in a Jerusalem boarding school, where a Romeo and Juliet-like romance unfolds. Sept. 24, 7 p.m., Studio Movie Grill-Spring Valley.
Serial (Bad) Weddings won best screenplay at the Lumiere awards in France earlier this year. Three daughters in a Catholic family marry Arab, Jew and Asian husbands. Sept. 26, 9 p.m., Angelika Plano.
The Farewell Party won four Ophir Awards last year, including best actor and cinematography. The world of an elderly couple is rocked hard when their best friend is dying. Sept. 30, 7 p.m., Studio Movie Grill-Spring Valley.
Plan your life
The 19th Jewish Film Festival of Dallas, running through Sept. 30, begins with a free preview on Sunday at Zale Auditorium in the Jewish Community Center of Dallas, 7900 Northaven Road. Single tickets are $12 in advance, $15 at the door, $100 for the festival series package. 214-239-7138. jccdallas.org.