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Heebish Highlights of the Sundance Film Festival 2011

Many of the selections at the Sundance Film Festival, which ran January 20–30 in Park City, Utah, were the work of Jewish directors or about Jewish themes — the following films among them.

• Prolific documentary filmmaker Liz Garbus was back at Sundance this year, premiering “Bobby Fischer Against the World.” The film tells the bizarre life story of the Brooklyn-bred Jew who is widely considered to be the greatest chess player of all time. It centers on Fischer’s 1972 World Championship match, billed as a proxy battle in the Cold War, and the chess master’s subsequent descent into reclusion and paranoia. It touches only briefly on Fischer’s virulent anti-Semitism, made all the more curious by his own religious roots. The film will air on HBO in July.

• Five years in the making, Yoav Potash’s absorbing documentary “Crime After Crime” chronicles the extended legal battle of Deborah Peagler, who was convicted and imprisoned in connection to the 1983 murder of her abusive boyfriend. Potash captures Peagler’s extraordinarily productive prison life, and the tireless efforts of her two pro-bono attorneys. The lawyers, in an attempt to secure their client’s freedom, work for years to expose what they see as holes in the case against Peagler and a pattern of misconduct in the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office. One of Peagler’s lawyers, Joshua Safran, is an Orthodox Jew, who sees his work on the case as part of a religious mandate to pursue justice and free the wrongly imprisoned.

“Deeper Than Yesterday,” a short film by Ariel Kleiman, takes place almost entirely underwater — on a Russian navy submarine, where, without sun and without sex, the seamen become more depraved with each passing day. The limits of their savagery are tested when they discover a beautiful woman’s lifeless body floating in the water. The 2011 festival marks the second year in a row that a short film by Kleiman, the 25-year-old son of Russian Jews who immigrated to Melbourne, Australia, has screened at Sundance. “Deeper Than Yesterday” won this year’s jury prize in the international short filmmaking category.

• Nearly a quarter century after the Beastie Boys released “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party),” and its havoc-wreaking music video, Adam “MCA” Yauch — a founding member of the hip-hop group — has directed “Fight For Your Right Revisited.” The lushly produced short film, which resembles an extended music video, shows viewers what happens after the trio leaves the sleepy party turned Budweiser-fueled pie fight. This raucous Sundance selection features Danny McBride as MCA, Elijah Wood as Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz and Seth Rogen as Michael “Mike D” Diamond, as well as cameos by more than a dozen other Hollywood A-listers, from Will Farrell to Susan Sarandon.

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