A chef's tour with Zahav's Michael Solomonov, plus other choice morsels from upcoming local film fests

Michael-Solomonov-Zahav-film
Michael Solomonov, left, of Zahav restaurant in Philadelphia is the chef/guide of "In Search of Israeli Cuisine."

Sundance is history, Cannes is still weeks - and an ocean - away, and the Philadelphia Film Festival won't pitch its tent again until October. What's a movie fiend to do?

Go to a film festival or two, that's what.

A happy convergence of small but smartly curated festivals is happening in and around town in the coming weeks. The folks at the Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival launch their monthly series of "CineMondays" tomorrow with an impressive food-centric doc starring Zahav chef Michael Solomonov. The satisfyingly offbeat Cinedelphia Film Festival gets under way in a little more than a week. Moore College of Art hosts a wonderfully diverse set of films celebrating female artists. And the Garden State Film Festival moves into several Atlantic City venues to bring a daunting number of features and shorts to Jersey cineastes.

Let's take a look.

Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival "CineMondays."

You can't ask for a better tour guide. In In Search of Israeli Cuisine, a mouthwatering, bridge-building documentary that opens the annual Monday movie series tomorrow, Solomonov crisscrosses the land where he was born, making a case that true diversity - in the kitchens, on the streets, in the marketplaces - lives here.

"I think I'm pretty well-versed in food, and pretty well-versed in Israel," says Solomonov, the James Beard Award-winning restaurateur whose Philadelphia endeavors include the lauded Israeli dining room Zahav, the hummus-and-pita spot Dizengoff and its bustling Sansom Street neighbor Abe Fisher, the rib room Percy Street Barbecue, and the addictive Federal Donuts.

"I have gone to Israel multiple times over the years," he adds, "and every trip there is basically a food trip. But most of the things that we experienced while we were making the film, I had never seen, and in some cases had never even heard of.

"It's such a small country, and yet it was really amazing to me that there was so much, that it was so dynamic, that it was so ever-changing."

Directed by Roger Sherman, In Search of Israeli Cuisine finds Solomonov hunkered down at a Tel Aviv lunch counter, sampling an array of salads that mix Iraqi, Moroccan, Turkish, and Greek influences. The two men traveled from one end of the country to the other, tasting breads and meats, fruits and vegetables, and dishes whose ingredients were mostly locally sourced, but whose culinary origins range beyond the borders of the Middle East.

"Food is not political," one of the chefs Solomonov interviews in the film says.

At the same time, politics - and its most dire consequences - hang over the film, over Solomonov's life. At one point in the documentary, the Philadelphia chef travels to an apple orchard on the Israeli border with Lebanon where his younger brother, David, was shot and killed by a sniper in 2003. David was just days away from being released from the Israeli Army. He died on Yom Kippur. He was 21.

The movie shows Solomonov and his family visiting the site on the tenth anniversary of his brother's death.

"I think that subconsciously, I started cooking more Israeli cuisine, or more Israeli influences, or some people might say Yemenite influences" after his brother's death, Solomonov says on camera. "Things started to end up on the menu that were things that I loved here and ate here, and [in] my restaurant I think we made a case for Israel through food."

Solomonov and director Sherman will be on hand tomorrow night after the 7:30 p.m. screening at the Gershman Y to talk about In Search of Israeli Cuisine and the food and the people it celebrates. The chef will also sign copies of his new book, Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking.

Information on the entire CineMonday series, which runs through May 23: www.pjff.org

Cinedelphia Film Festival

April 7-23 is the window for this year's eclectic, eccentric, always edifying Cinedelphia fest. Headquartered at PhilaMOCA, the 2016 iteration kicks off with "An Evening with Joe Bob Briggs," featuring the celebrated Lone Star movie crit talking about his career, his drive-in aesthetic, and the feature that will just have played, Walter Hill's 1979 street gang classic, The Warriors.

Another highlight: The Beaver Trilogy (April 9), Trent Harris' doc and doc homages about Richard LaVon Griffiths, a.k.a. The Beaver Kid, a.k.a. Groovin' Gary, a guy with a flair for impressions and an Olivia Newton-John obsession. The Beaver Kid, shot in 1979, is followed by The Beaver Kid 2, with Sean Penn offering a dramatic interpretation of the Groovin' experience. The final installment, The Orkly Kid, features Crispin Glover.

One more Cinedelphia highlight: Chasing Banksy (April 22) in which filmmaker Frank Henenlotter (Basketcase, Frankenhooker) follows a troop of New York artists who head south to abscond with a piece of art by the fabled British graffiti artist.

Information: www.cinedelphia.com/cinedelphiafilmfestival

MooreWomenArtists Film Festival An ambitious program of docs and shorts celebrating the life and work of female artists takes place at Moore College of Art - the country's first and only visual arts college for women - next weekend, April 1-3.

The films are free (though reservations for tickets are recommended) and include: Demetria Royals' Conjure Women, a performance-based documentary exploring the work and views of four African American female artists; a double bill with Amy Harrison's Guerrillas in Our Midst (about the art activists Guerilla Girls), and Joan Braderman's The Heretics (about the feminist art collective); and Alice Neel, about the iconic portrait artist (and Moore grad), directed by her grandson Andrew Neel.

Information: www.moore.edu/calendar

Garden State Film Festival There are 214 films, hailing from 17 countries, crammed into this year's New Jersey indie film fest, which runs Thursday through Sunday in venues around Atlantic City.

Opening the busy slate is Dough, John Goldschmidt's cross-cultural, cross-generational British comedy, in which Jonathan Pryce stars as an old Jewish baker who hires a young apprentice from Darfur. The boy's idea to spice up the challah bread with marijuana is an instant hit.

Information: www.gsff.org

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