Larry Ferber came to the Palm Beach Jewish Film Festival after an award-winning television career that included stints as executive producer of shows that revolved around polarizing stars Joan Rivers and Dennis Miller.
If a volatile emotional response greets some of the 39 films, documentaries and shorts at the festival, he’s done his job.
“People are gonna talk. People are gonna think,” Ferber says. “Of course, sometimes, you want them to laugh, too.”
Thursday’s opening-night event at the Kravis Center (a sellout for the first time in the festival’s 23 opening nights, Ferber says) does not gamble on the kickoff film: “Hava Nagila,” a look at the evolution of the tune into a mainstream pop culture touchstone performed by everyone from Regina Spektor to Bob Dylan, is filled with music and comic observations from Woody Allen, Larry David, Mel Brooks and Mary Tyler Moore.
But the night will be given poignancy with an appearance by Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman (pictured), who used “Hava Nagila” in her gold-medal-winning floor routine to honor 11 Israeli athletes massacred at the Munich Olympics 40 years ago. Local philanthropist Rick Stone will join Raisman as a special guest on opening night.
“Wherever she goes, she’s a magnet,” Ferber says of Raisman. “We hit the jackpot.”
While Ferber, in his second year with the festival, is responsible for picking the films, one of the first changes he made was to expand the size of the screening committee from less than a dozen to about 40 people, creating a diversity of which is he proud.
So while the festival includes the boxing biopic “Max Schmeling” and the jukebox musical documentary “A.K.A. Doc Pomus,” Ferber is not afraid to be provocative, with the transgender drama “Melting Away” and “The Human Turbine,” a 2010 film about a group of Israelis who help neighbors in the Palestinian town of Susia harness wind and solar energy.
Many such films divided his committee down the middle, with some of his proposals “despised,” Ferber says. “But to me, that’s a good thing.”
IF YOU GO
The Palm Beach Jewish Film Festival will screen Thursday through Jan. 27 at a half-dozen locations in Palm Beach County. Tickets: $10, $5 children. Reel Pass, with entry to all screenings: $125, $100 members. Call 561-736-7527 or go to PBJFF.org.
Photo: Eric Bojanowski