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33rd San Francisco Jewish Film Festival: Life and Films Through a Jew(ish) Lens

33rd San Francisco Jewish Film Festival: Life and Films Through a Jew(ish) Lens

Film festivals are just about perpetual temptations in
the San Francisco Bay Area. The discerning filmgoer here has to pick and choose her obsessions. One of mine is the well-programmed,
easily-accessible San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, running July 25 through August 12, whose 33rd annual program was just announced at its ritually haimishe press
conference (Bagels n’schmear!  Strong
coffee!  And fresh plums just plucked from
one of the festival employee’s tree!). 

An equally haimishe reason that I look
forward to the Jewish Film Festival every year: it’s my father’s favorite film
festival, and now that he’s semi-retired, I can count on his enthusiastic
companionship at a daunting number of movies a day.

Equally enthusiastic as they hit on highlights of the
upcoming fest were the triumvirate of Executive Director Lexi Leban, Program
Director Jay Rosenblatt, and Associate Programmer Joshua Moore. This year the Festival (the first and largest
Jewish film festival in the world) has a 30% increase in programming over last
year, showing 74 films, including 42 premieres, from 26 different countries, in
numerous venues spread out over five Bay Area cities: San Francisco, Berkeley,
Oakland, San Rafael and Palo Alto. 

This year’s title, Life Through a Jew(ish) Lens, references
a joke — it was perhaps Jerry Seinfeld who first responded to the “Are
you a Jew?” question with “Well, Jew-ISH.” (The delightfully
brief Jewish Film Festival trailer also references a joke: a priest and a rabbi
walk into a bar!) In this instance the rubric is designed to cover a broad
spectrum of films that expand upon the notion of Jewishness and might be
tangential, such as the documentaries “The Trials of Muhammed Ali,”
“After Tiller,” and “Gideon’s Army,” opening up a dialogue
with its Jew(ish) audiences.

Narrative films include the charming, imaginative,
family-friendly opening night film, “The Zigzag Kid,” a
Netherlands/Belgium co-production starring Isabella Rossellini, with director
Vincent Bal and actor Jessica Zeljtmaker in person; the powerful and
controversial “The Attack,” about a Palestinian Israeli doctor who
loses his wife in a suicide bombing, with director Ziad Doueri (TOH! interview here) and actor Ali
Suliman in attendance; “Afternoon Delight,” a contemporary sex comedy
set in the Silver Lake area of Los Angeles, with director Jill Soloway; and the
cloying night film, the French “Rue Mandar,” with actor Richard
Berry. 

The Festival’s Freedom of Expression Award goes to prolific director
Alan Berliner, with a shoeing of his latest film, “First Cousin Once
Removed,” about his cousin Edwin Honig, once a famed poet, translator,
critic and university lecturer, now struggling with Alzheimer’s. A spotlight
on prolific actor-director Alex Karpofsky (“Girls”) includes a clip
show, screening of his film “Red Flag” and an onstage interview and
discussion.

In a useful attempt to help their audience navigate through
the thickets of its program, the catalogue breaks down its offerings into a
number of categories: Lights, Camera, Take Action describes documentaries that
can make people “think, feel, and act;” JewTube highlights offerings
from television, including “Prisoners of War,” the Israeli show that
inspired the U.S.’s “Homeland,” and “Arab Labor” Season Four,
an Israeli JFF stock favorite (that I find painful, but hey!  there’s no accounting for taste).

Icons are
documentaries and fiction films about people ranging from Amy Winehouse
(“Amy Winehouse: The Day She Came to Dingle”) to Art Spiegelman (“The
Art of Spiegelman”),  from
“Hannah Arendt” to Jerry Lewis (“Jerry and Me”) and from
Wilhelm Reich (“The Strange Case of Wilhelm Reich”) to Johnny Cash
(“My Father and the Man in Black”). 

Borders films concern the complicated politics of the Middle
East, including the aforementioned “The Attack,” (banned in its
director’s country, Lebanon), ‘Before the Revolution,” about privileged
Jews who had to flee Iran after the Shah was deposed, and “The Cutoff
Man,” in which an Israeli has to take work as the man who shuts off the
water if you can’t pay your bills. 

“Song and Dance” features a documentary,
“Broadway Musicals: A Jewish Legacy,” and several films inspired by
it, including a singalong screening of “Annie,” and the filmed
version of the musical “The Producers.”  Several of these family-friendly films are
also included in the We Are Family section, as well as  Spielberg’s “An American Tail” and
the alluring “Commie Camp,” about a “leftwing Jewish summer
camp.”  Aligned are the
coming-of-age films featured in Growing Up, including the aforementioned
“The Zigzag Kid” and “Rue Mandar” as well as the
intriguingly-titled “My Awkward Sexual Adventure.”

New York New York encompasses such diverse films as
“Joe Papp in Five Acts,” about the theater impresario who first
ignored and then embraced his Judaism, “Sukkah City,” about an
international architectural competition of these small festive houses, and
“Here One Day,” a documentary made by a daughter about her mother’s
suicide. And WWII includes the usual
(but seemingly less present in this edition of the JFF) Holocaust films,
including “50 Children: The Rescue Mission of Mr. and Mrs. Kraus”,
paired with “The Real Inglorious Bastards.”

Whew. That ought be
enough for anyone, but they won’t leave well enough alone: there are special
events and plenty of live music, including a concert of Winehouse covers and
originals by Crystal Monee Hall after the Castro Theatre showing in SF of
“Amy Winehouse: The Day She Came to Dingle,” and a reggae show
featuring Doctor Israel and Dub Gabriel after a screening of “Awake
Zion,” about the musical connection between Rastafarians and Jews, at
Oakland’s Art Deco masterpiece the Grand Lake Theatre. 

And who knows just what awaits one at Art/Tech:
Multiplatform Storytelling, in which two filmmakers, Theo Rigby and Liz Nord,
will “showcase their innovative techniques for expanding the art of
storytelling into the modern age,” and the audience is encouraged to join
in.  

As we Jew(ish) say: oy!

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