"Hava Nagila," on the history, mystery and meaning of the Jewish standard, screens at 7 p.m. Saturday. There's an all-ages dance party, too.

'Hava Nagila (The Movie)" is slated to open in New York and other major cities in March and then in theaters nationwide.

It is already a hit at Jewish film festivals.

The documentary, described as "a foot-tapping celebration of 100 years of Jewish culture and spirituality," made its world premiere in July at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival - packing the Castro Theatre on the opening night of the world's oldest and biggest Jewish film festival.

"It started there and it's been kind of a wild ride ever since," director Roberta Grossman said in a recent phone interview.

The film makes its Arizona premiere Saturday when it screens at the Tucson International Jewish Film Festival, where it kicks off an all-ages dance party. It will open the Greater Phoenix Jewish Film Festival next month.

Grossman, who grew up in the Los Angeles area, said she was ready for a film "about the happy side of life" after directing "Blessed Is the Match: The Life and Death of Hannah Senesh," a 2008 documentary about a Hungarian poet who was captured by the Nazis, while trying to rescue Jews in World War II. Grossman appeared with that film at the Tucson International Jewish Film Festival in 2009.

"Hava Nagila" is a film about a song that people think they knew all about - until they watch the movie, said Lynn Davis, the Tucson Jewish Community Center's director of arts and culture.

The film is a balance of clips and interviews, including such seemingly unlikely subjects as Connie Francis and Harry Belafonte, and Glen Campbell (who all recorded the song), among others. Such interviews make the film "more fun, and more interesting and complex than one would expect," Grossman said.

The film has been booked into more than 70 Jewish film festivals, and Grossman says many have planned it as the opening night or built events, like Saturday's dance party, around it.

The director said she has been impressed by the diversity of audiences - from people living in Yiddish-speaking enclaves to the non-observant. "Jewish film festivals are one of the most vibrant parts of Jewish life, in America in particular," she said.

'Hava' continued from Page 23

Inger Sandal