PORTLAND – Focused on the theme “The Diaspora Experience: What it Means to be From Away,” this year’s Maine Jewish Film Festival explores Jewish culture in features, documentaries, drama and comedy.

Besides Portland, screenings will be in Lewiston, Waterville and Biddeford.

Opening night is Saturday, March 21, with a showing of the heartwarming coming-of-age story “Max Minsky and Me.”

Highlights of this year’s festival include a visit by director Roberta Grossman in support of two screenings of her film “Blessed Is The Match: The Life and Death of Hannah Senesh” on Tuesday, March 24, and a look at the man behind the New York Marathon in the documentary “Run for your Life.”

An opening night party will be held at 6 p.m. March 21 at Greenhut Galleries, 146 Middle St., with films to be screened throughout the festival at Nickelodeon Cinemas, 1 Temple St.; One Longfellow Square, 181 State St.; Gerald Talbot Auditorium on the University of Southern Maine’s Portland campus; City Theater, 205 Main St., Biddeford; Railroad Square Cinema in Waterville and Bates College, 2 Andrews Road, Lewiston.

“Blessed Is the Match” is the first documentary feature about Hannah Senesh, the World War II-era poet and diarist who became a paratrooper, resistance fighter and modern-day Joan of Arc. This powerful story unfolds through the writings and photographs of Hannah and Catherine Senesh. “Blessed is the Match” earned the Audience Award for Best Documentary at the Washington and the Hong Kong Jewish film festivals.

“Run for your Life,” to be shown Saturday, March 28, is the story of how one Jewish immigrant’s determination and sweat created the most significant running event in the world. The film touches the heart and soul of anyone who has a passion for running, and documents the inspirational life of Fred Lebow and the history of the New York City Marathon. Before event marketing, when corporate sponsorship was in its infancy, Lebow was cutting deals, getting Playboy bunnies to race in the first women’s mini-marathon and helping to feed the growing popularity of running as a social activity.

Bates College will be the venue for the noon showing of a 70-minute 2008 documentary titled “King Lati The First,” in Hebrew/English/Russian/Wolof with English subtitles, In the film, Lati is only 8 years old, but he already has a heavy load on his shoulders. Born in Tel Aviv to a Senegalese father and a Belarusian mother, he is heir to the throne of a Senegalese tribe. But he is also a typical Israeli child – a fan of McDonald’s and especially of the local basketball team. He is now about to travel to his kingdom for the first time where more than 1 million of his subjects await his return. Told with a light comic tone, this film highlights the personal cost of globalization and the dilemma we face as we straddle the crossroads of tradition and modernity.

This year’s closing film, “The Beetle,” will be screened in the historic 500-seat City Theater in Biddeford Sunday, March 29. In this comic documentary, director Yishai Orian is married to Eliraz, but is in love with his old VW Beetle. Eliraz is about to give birth to their first child and is hoping to get rid of the old wreck, which she feels is unsuitable for the baby. As the argument heats up whether to junk or invest in rehabilitating the Beetle, Yishai goes on a journey that starts with the previous owners of the Beetle and ends with an attempt to save his old love. “The Beetle” is a heartwarming and hilarious personal story of one man’s quest and a must-see for any one who’s ever loved a car.

Go and do

WHAT: Maine Jewish Film Festival

WHEN: March 21-29

WHERE: Portland, Biddeford, Lewiston, Waterville

COST: Individual tickets $8, $6 for seniors and students, except for the closing film and reception, which is $10 for all audience members; an all-festival pass (limited availability), $99. Tickets may be purchased through Brown Paper Tickets, www.brownpapertickets.

MORE INFO: visit www.mjff.org

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