If you ask Assistant Executive Director Adrian Bendick what her favorite movie at the Greater Phoenix Jewish Film Festival is, she probably wouldn't be able to give you a straight answer.

"I really can't pick a favorite because we're very, very stringent on how we pick our films," Bendick said. "We pick only the best, so I couldn't really pick a favorite because they're all so good."

The festival, which runs through Feb. 26 at three Harkins theaters throughout the Valley, features 11 films with Jewish themes that range from full-length feature films to docudramas to documentaries, along with various short films.

The Greater Phoenix Jewish Film Festival has been around for 16 years, and was attended by more than 6,000 people last year. It includes films for all ages, and sponsors a "Films in Schools" program that brings Jewish cinema to local schools in the community.

Certain screenings feature guest speakers that discuss a particular film, and allow the audience to interact and strike up a conversation regarding its content.

One such speaker is Rabbi Dean Shapiro, a former Hollywood executive who has been a rabbi at the Tempe Emanuel of Tempe for seven months.

He will be on hand to discuss "The Matchmaker" at Chandler Crossroads 12 on Thursday, Feb. 23. The film is a coming-of-age story about a young man, a matchmaker with a dark past, and ultimately the power of love.

"It's a special film," Shapiro said. "It is an opportunity to see wonderful, charming, heartwarming movies from around the world. Not to mention that it's really fun to go to a film festival and see a movie you wouldn't get to see otherwise. There's a sense of discovery that really can't be matched."

Paul Wieser is a Holocaust scholar who will be speaking at the screening of "Hidden Children" at Crossroads 12 on Tuesday, Feb. 21. This French docudrama follows the true story of two Jewish boys that are saved by a Christian woman during World War II, and touches on a wide array of issues, according to Wieser.

"The importance of this film is that it shows the dilemma between church and state," Wieser said. "It really is very compelling and intriguing. All of these films get you to thinking what's being presented is not as simple as it looks. If you're looking for a challenge where you're left with your thoughts and you're wrestling with this set of moral dilemmas that come up, these would be the films to go see."

Even though the film festival is far from over, Bendick is already hard at work on the 2013 event.

"Putting on a film festival is a full 12-month process, we're already working on next year's," Bendick said. "It's ongoing and never-ending. We have a lot of volunteers that are very, very involved. It's a wonderful, heartwarming process."

The Greater Phoenix Jewish Film Festival will be ongoing until Feb. 26 at the Harkins Camelview 5 in Scottsdale, Harkins Arrowhead 18 in Peoria, and the Harkins Crossroads 12 in Chandler.

To learn more about the festival or purchase tickets, visit www.gpjff.org.

Patrick Ryan is interning this semester for the Ahwatukee Foothills News. He is a sophomore at Arizona State University.

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