AS SPECIFIC AS "Jewish" can be, when applied to contemporary cinema it results in a dynamic snapshot of how this identity is currently being addressed. The Northwest Film Center often hosts such culturally focused events as the Portland Jewish Film Festival, which celebrates its 21st year this week. To outsiders the fest may seem a bit members-only, but each year includes pieces that speak to universalities alongside those that offer immersive—and healthily unfamiliar—perspectives.
Perhaps most widely appealing is the engrossing, exhaustive documentary A.K.A. Doc Pomus. Born in Brooklyn in 1925, Pomus suffered a crippling case of polio before breaking stereotype to become a blues singer (it's probable he never broke big because record companies were unsure how to market an overweight Jewish kid on crutches). He went on to write an astonishing number of iconic pop songs, like "This Magic Moment," "Viva Las Vegas," and "A Teenager in Love." A.K.A. gives equal time to Pomus' colorful personal life, marked by a defiant attitude toward his disadvantages and a lightning rod influence among many of the most important popular musicians of the 20th century.
Then there are films like Stand Up!, about a young man torn between his yeshiva studies and dreams of the scandalous world of stand-up comedy—it's sweet, but some of the humor was clearly lost on this goy. By contrast, The Rabbi's Daughter documents three women breaking away from the expectations of the roles they were born into—which, c'mon, everyone does that. This is appropriately paired with Fill the Void, the dramatization of a young woman pondering what is essentially an arranged marriage, which... okay, not everyone does that. The point is that however you relate to Judaism (or don't), the eclectic mix represented here offers worthwhile excursions of both the familiar and introductory variety.