Some Bay Area movie-goers have called the annual Jewish Film Festival their favorite Jewish holiday, and you’d have to witness the excited queue outside San Francisco’s Castro Theater on opening night to understand why. This year’s 36th edition, running from July 21st to August 7th in various Bay Area locations, including San Francisco, Berkeley, Palo Alto, Oakland, and San Rafael, should supply more evidence.
The 67 films from 15 countries include subjects such as basketball; food; the Holocaust; abortion; West Bank settlements; and LGBTQ issues.
Here are a few highlights.
Opening night’s film (July 21) is “The Tenth Man,” directed by Daniel Burman, a comedy set in Buenos Aires; the film will be followed by the Opening Night Bash at the Contemporary Jewish Museum. Berkeley’s opening night (July 30) is “The Last Laugh,” a documentary about (yes) Holocaust humor, featuring interviews with Mel Brooks, Sarah Silverman, and others. Of course there will be a party after–at the Roda Theater, site of the Berkeley part of the festival.
The basketball portion of the festival will take place at Palo Alto’s opening night (July 23) with “On the Map,” an examination of Israel’s improbabey win at the 1977 European Championship, with interviews with African American Aulcie Perry, NBA great Bill Walton, and refusenik Natan Sharansky among others.
Previous festivals have featured foodie films such as “Russ and Daughters,” the mouth-watering doc about New York’s legendary Lower East Side smoked fish emporium (followed, of course, by a fishy reception). This year, we’ll have “In Search of Israeli Cuisine,” featuring James Beard Cookbook of the Year chef Michael Solomonov exploring the many sources of the newly-acclaimed food fashion. Guess what? A reception (“Film and Feast”) will follow the July 23rd screening at San Francisco’s Castro Theater.
“Hummus! The Movie” covers the competing claims to Israel’s best version of the popular chickpea appetizer; and “Streit’s: Matzo and the American Dream,” a free matinee, examines the history of the 80-year-old Lower East Side matzo factory and what faces it today.
Films of LGBTQ interest include two features and three documentaries. “Blush” is an Israeli feature about a teen-aged girl’s infatuation with another young woman. “The People vs. Fritz Bauer” is a historical thriller about Bauer, the closeted gay attorney attempting to bring Adolf Eichmann to trial in Israel. “Who’s Gonna Love Me Now?” examines the life of a young gay HIV-positive Israeli living in London; when his parents in Israel ask him to return home, he faces unusual problems. “Uncle Howard,” director Aaron Brookner, searches out the history of his uncle, Howard Brookner, a Jewish filmmaker who died of AIDS in the 1980s. “The Freedom to Marry” traces the story of Evan Wolfson, “godfather” of the marriage equality movement. Eddie Rosenstein directed.
Two literary adaptations stand out: “A Tale of Love and Darkness,” and “Indignation.” The first, adapted from Amos Oz’s famous autobiographical novel, directed by and starring Natalie Portman, relates the author/hero’s relationship with his mother during the founding years of the state of Israel. It’s filmed in Hebrew. The second is the adaptation of Philip Roth’s novel, “Indignation,” set in 1950s Ohio and directed by James Schamus.
Tributes to famous Jews in show biz include “For the Love of Spock” (the Castro’s closing night film on July 31), about Leonard Nimoy, the much-loved star of the “Star Trek” films. The evening will include clips from the series as well as interviews with William Shatner, George Takei, and others. The director is Adam Nimoy, Leonard’s son. The festival’s Freedom of Expression Award this year goes to Norman Lear, creator of popular shows such as “All in the Family” and “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman,” among others. A screening of “Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You” will precede the award ceremony, which Lear will be attending.
Other films of note include “Natasha,” David Bezmogis’s film based on his short story, which was compared to the work of Bernard Malamud and Philip Roth; “Wrestling Jerusalem,” Aaron Davidman’s screen version of his one-man show examining the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in which Davidman impersonated 17 characters; “Holy Zoo,” a documentary about Jerusalem’s Biblical Zoo, which Muslim and Jewish children are given tours of; and two films about (non-comic) aspects of the Holocaust: “The Origin of Violence,” about a researcher’s trip to Buchenwald concentration camp; and “A German Life,” a documentary about the former stenographer for Nazi minister of propaganda Joseph Goebbels.
Tickets range in price from $12 for Jewish Film Institute members and $15 for non-members ($14 for seniors and students) to all-festival passes for $260 (members) and $295 (non-members). Various other deals are available. Tickets and further information are available at www.sfjff.org. or by phoning (415) 621-0523.