L.A. Sephardic Film Festival fetes beloved Israeli entertainer

Posted By on November 6, 2014

Yehoram Gaon. Photo by Ilan Besor

Attendees at the 2014 Los Angeles Sephardic Jewish Film Festival (LASJFF) will have to wait for the second night if they want Sephardic content. Unless, that is, the festivals opening-night celebrity honoree decides to sing a Ladino song during his acceptance speech.

When you are operating a small film festival that plays every other year to a niche audience, you have a bit more flexibility over what you can and cannot do. For its opening-night gala, the LASJFF will present Operation Sunflower, a film that is neither made by a person of Sephardic descent, nor is in any way Sephardic in its subject matter. This slightly off-mission premiere represents a first for the festival, which began in 1997.

However, Operation Sunflower features beloved Israeli actor and entertainer Yehoram Gaon, who is both a proud Sephardi and the recipient of this years Cinema Sepharad Lifetime Achievement Award. Gaon will be in attendance to accept the award at the Nov. 9 screening at Paramount Pictures.

We could have picked a whole host of other films that Yehoram Gaon has been in, said Rabbi Daniel Bouskila, director of the Sephardic Educational Center (SEC), which produces the festival. Kazablan would have been fun, but its 40 years old, and everybody has seen it. For a premiere opening night at Paramount, we didnt want to screen a film that you can get on Netflix.

Presented from the perspective of pioneering scientists, Operation Sunflower is inspired by true events, chronicling Israels decision to pursue nuclear weaponry in the face of threats from Iran. Gaon portrays the head of the Mossad.

Given the honorees background and his contributions to Israels entertainment industry, the film is almost beside the point. The Jerusalem-born Gaon has starred in, written and directed multiple films; he wrote In the Middle of the Road and edited Spices From Spain, a collection of Ladino quotes. With more than 20 albums running the gamut from Israeli songs to Ladino ballads, Gaon basically put Ladino music on the map in the latter part of the 20th century, Bouskila said.

Some of our past honorees have received the Cinema Sepharad Award, because they were Sephardic, but not necessarily because they had done anything to promote the Sephardic heritage, Bouskila continued. This year we decided, Lets really try to find an honoree that promotes in his or her professional work what our mission really is. Yehoram Gaon was the classic choice.

Interviewed by phone in Israel, Gaon said he is pleased by the recognition and hopeful that the LASJFF award like his many other accolades will help open up opportunities to showcase other deserving artists of Sephardic descent.

I do believe that awards like this can encourage Ladino singers and actors to do more, said Gaon, who will sandwich in a quick-hit visit to Los Angeles and return home two days later to assorted TV and radio commitments. So I am very happy.

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L.A. Sephardic Film Festival fetes beloved Israeli entertainer

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