Seattle Jewish Film Festival
March 10-18 at Cinerama.

Irish Reels
March 7-10 at Harvard Exit, 911 Media Arts, and the Seattle Art Museum.

Napoleon--too short to ever grow optimistic--once said, "History is a set of lies agreed upon." Perhaps he was right: Certainly, history is rich with veins of lies petrified by the pressures of time. Yet, we must be optimistic about time. We must remember that we are given the tool of memory. And with this tool, we may mine the veins of history, and bring the lies to light.

Among their numerous cultural claims to stake--atheistic faith, irrational theoretical science, Hollywood--collective memory ranks extraordinarily high with the Jews, for obvious reasons. This year's Seattle Jewish Film Festival elegantly displays this theme, with a wide-ranging selection of narrative features, documentaries, and (gasp!) even experimental works. Herewith, a few highlights.

Voyages (Mon March 12 at 7 pm), a disarming narrative feature from first-time French director Emanuel Finkiel, focuses on the effects of living under the sometimes oppressive influence of memory, in three linked vignettes. Finkiel was a longtime assistant to the great Krzysztof Kieslowski, and in this first outing he admirably displays the master's influence: cold, Polish light; close-ups of faces; rich, melancholy silences. Finkiel's excellent casting (the first segment offers an especially loving assembly of septuagenarians; their well-lined faces doing half of their acting for them) in support of his watertight script make this one of the festival's surer bets.

Among the documentary offerings, the definite standout is the dryly titled Evgueni Khaldei: Photographer Under Stalin (Wed March 14 at 9:30 pm). While you may not know the titular photographer by name, you have almost certainly seen his images, like the one at right. Khaldei is an absorbing and cheerful character; the nonchalance with which he reveals his methods repudiates the profound social impact of his work in an age when propaganda ruled the lives of millions.

Other notable documentaries include Sam Ball's The Pleasures of Urban Decay (Mon March 12 at 9 pm, Wed March 14 at 2 pm), a gorgeously photographed tribute to the slow-talking but visionary artist behind the popular comic Julius Knipl: Real Estate Photographer; and Pierre-Henry Salfati's The Jazzman from the Gulag (Sun March 18 at 12:30 pm), a stranger-than-fiction look at one Eddie Rosner, a Polish Jew whose brilliant trumpeting ("as good as Armstrong," some said) managed to save him again and again. Trumpeter Jim Knoldle and bassist Jon Sampson are scheduled to play before the screening.

For my money, however, the keystone of the festival promises to be its landmark Future of Memory program (Sun March 18 at 3 pm). A trio of experimental works on the theme of the Holocaust, this program manages not only to remind us of our condemnation should we forget the past, but also to remind us that the past often must be constructed. Take the first film, The March: Director Abraham Ravett filmed his survivor mother recollecting her 1945 death march from Auschwitz, but did so at yearly intervals over the course of a decade. Thus, we are given witness to memory coming alive even as its ves sel is dying. A more devastating effect is achieved by the hour-long, wordless, found-footage collage Maelstrom: A Family Chronicle, in which Hungarian director Peter Forgacs contrasts footage of a well-to-do Dutch family, the Peerebooms, with footage of the Nazi governor of Holland and his family. The piece builds toward its inevitable conclusion with the silent conviction of a scream, and we emerge shaken but again conscious that we must use the tools of memory or risk eternal return.

Tools of memory are supposedly lost on the Irish, whose cinematic stereotype typically has trouble remembering last night. This year's Irish Reels film festival should go a long way toward upending that image. The lineup begins at the Harvard Exit on Wednesday, with novelist Roddy Doyle's romantic comedy When Brendan Met Trudy, and continues at 911 Media Arts on Thursday with two somber documentaries. Things lighten up at the Seattle Art Museum over the weekend with some new comedies--playwright Conor McPherson's film debut, Saltwater (Fri March 9 at 7 pm), looks especially promising. Special treat: James Joyce (Sat March 10 at 6 pm), a new documentary on James Joyce and the writing of Ulysses. Finally, see Stranger Suggests for information about the closing-night film.