Viva la Cinema!

In Veracruz, Mexico, there lived a group of people who for generations had avoided eating pork and lit candles on Friday night without knowing why. In the early 1980s, some members of the group discovered their Jewish roots and converted to Judaism, and now, 20 years later, are still struggling for acceptance from the Jewish community in Mexico.

Their story is being told in "Eight Candles," a 2002 Mexican documentary, one of nine Jewish films being shown in Mexico’s first Jewish film festival.

"This opportunity is amazing, because for this first time the documentary is going to confront its intended audience," said "Eight Candles" director Sandro Halphen, who lives in Mexico City. "I hadn’t found venues to reach out to them."

The Jan 25.-Feb 3 sold-out festival aimed to teach local Jews about their heritage and non-Jews about a community that is sometimes misunderstood.

"We are looking at this festival not as a Jewish event," said Aron Margolis, director of the nonprofit Mexico International Jewish Film Festival. "This is an excellent opportunity for Mexican society to get to know the Jewish community. The Jews in Mexico are known as a community that is very closed and doesn’t let people in to get to know us. But the more they know us, the more they understand us."

There are about 50,000 Jews in Mexico, a predominately Catholic country. Most live in Mexico City. The sold-out festival in Mexico City is one of only a handful of Spanish-language Jewish film festivals in the world.

The Mexico festival features nine films, including "The Burial Society" (Canada) "Time of Favor" (Israel) and "Trembling Before G-d" (United States), a documentary about gay and lesbian Orthodox and Chasidic Jews.

Margolis hopes the Spanish-translated films can be shown elsewhere Latin America.