San Francisco Jewish Film Festival

A preview of the offerings at the 2014 Festival.

San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, July 24 – August 10, 2014


Highlights of the Jewish Film Festival

“Theodore Bikel: In the Shoes of Sholem Aleichem”
“The Green Prince”
“Run Boy Run”
“112 Weddings”
“Quality Balls: The David Steinberg Story”
“Above and Beyond”
“Havana Curveball”
“The Sturgeon Queens”
The 34th San Francisco Jewish Film Festival (SFJFF), the first and the longest-lasting film festival in America and still the largest of its kind, returns to the San Francisco Bay Area July 24 – August 10, 2014 with almost 70 offerings from 17 countries as diverse as Argentina, the Philippines, India and Cuba. Forty-nine feature films will be shown (28 documentaries and 21 narratives). Festivities, special discussion programs, Q & As with filmmakers and international guests will be featured.

The Festival’s 2014 Freedom of Expression Award will be presented to actor, folk singer, and political activist Theodore Bikel. In addition to his famous recreation of Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof,” Bikel appeared in many classic films including “My Fair Lady” and “The African Queen.” In its world premiere at the SFJFF, the documentary, “Theodore Bikel: In the Shoes of Sholem Aleichem” weaves together the stories of Bikel and Sholem Aleichem (real name, Solomon Rabinovich) the great Jewish storyteller, on whose tales “The Fiddler on the Roof” is based.

“The Green Prince” is being shown on the SFJFF’s opening night. It’s a thrilling documentary recounting Palestinian Mosab Hassan Yousef’s conversion from rabid terrorist to spy for Israel, and is based on Yousef’s memoir, “Son of Hamas, The Green Prince.” A stint in an Israel prison, where he witnessed Hamas’s brutality, convinced him to act on his principles although it meant acting against his family. The connection between Yousef, and his Israeli handler, Gonen, is at the heart of this tense and tangled story. A terrific film by director Nadav Schirman. The film will be distributed in theaters after the Festival. Don’t miss it.

Oscar winner Pepe Danquart’s drama, “Run Boy Run,” based on the bestselling Holocaust novel by Israeli author Uri Orlev, is a true story an of eight-year old boy’s struggle to evade capture by the Nazis and ward off starvation in the forests of Poland during World War II. By changing his name and passing himself off as a gentile, the boy (movingly portrayed by twin child actors Andrzej and Kamil Tkacz) is welcomed into homes, where Jews would be hated and worse. Told from a child’s viewpoint, “Run Boy Run” is a remarkable tale of courage and faith.

In “112 Weddings,” filmmaker Doug Block mines his work as a part-time wedding videographer. He re-interviews some of the couples whom he videoed on their wedding day in an effort to find out their secrets of a good marriage. The results vary from wise, funny, sad, and frank as couples and divorced partners recount what they have learned about love and marriage. If you missed it on HBO, this is your opportunity.

One of the comedy highlights at the SFJFF is “Quality Balls: The David Steinberg Story” directed by Barry Avrich, starring former stand-up comedy star and now director David Steinberg, Johnny Carson, Larry David, Jean Doumanian, and Jerry Seinfeld. Did you know that Steinberg was Johnny Carson’s most frequent guest, second to Bob Hope? Did you know that Steinberg was on Nixon’s enemies list? While still in the midst of a super-successful career in stand-up comedy, Steinberg left the stage and became a director of comedy series such as “Seinfeld,” “Golden Girls” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” Twenty-five years after leaving stand-up, the soft-spoken yet charismatic Steinberg tells his fascinating life story. His stand-up routine and stories are still very funny.

“Above and Beyond” is a fascinating, inspiring and well-crafted documentary by Roberta Grossman about the brave American Jewish World War II veterans who volunteered to form the Israeli air force in 1947 and became fighter pilots in Israel’s 1948 war. The young men flew in old junked Messerschmitts and B-17 bombers, risking their lives, their freedom and their U.S. citizenship for a Jewish homeland. Narrated by the pilots themselves, these “mensches” made me “kvell.”

For a charming, family-oriented film, you can’t miss with “Havana Curveball” (pun intended). The son of filmmakers Marcia Jarmel and Ken Schneider tries to deliver baseball equipment to Cuba for his bar mitzvah good works project. First Mica and his family travel to Canada in order to ship the equipment to Cuba, but delivery is unsubstantiated. Three years later, Mica and his father travel to Cuba, equipment in hand. As he travels throughout Cuba, Mica learns the joy and disillusionment of charitable giving. A world premiere.

Julie Cohen’s “The Sturgeon Queens” follows four generations of the Jewish immigrant family that founded Russ and Daughters, a Lower East Side lox and herring emporium that still thrives. Produced to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the store, this documentary features an extensive interview with two of the original daughters, now 100 and 92 years old, and interviews with prominent enthusiasts of the store including Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, actress Maggie Gyllenhaal, Chef Mario Batali, New Yorker writer Calvin Trillin, and 60 Minutes correspondent Morley Safer.

It looks like a great year for the SFJFF. Tickets and passes are now on sale. All-Festival passes, discount cards and special prices for students and seniors are available. For ticket information, contact the box office at 415.621.0523 or There is a new mobile app to help you keep track of the schedule, which can be downloaded from the website.

San Francisco ,
Emily S. Mendel, a writer and photographer, has been a regular contributor to since 2006, where she reviews theater, art, film, television and destinations. Ending her 30-year law practice has given Ms. Mendel the time to indulge in her love of travel and the arts, and to serve as the theater reviewer for