San Francisco Jewish Film Festival 2017

Written by:
Renata Polt
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When I wrote an article on Jewish film festivals for Hadassah magazine 14 years ago, the San Francisco Jewish film festival was the oldest and the largest anywhere.

Of course it’s still the oldest; and–guess what?–it’s still the largest.

So, welcome to the 37th annual edition, to be held at San Francisco’s Castro Theater and elsewhere in the Bay Area from July 20th to August 6th.

There will be, of course, films from Israel and the US; also from Hungary, Denmark, France, Germany, Sweden… you get the idea. There are romantic comedies, dramas, and documentaries. Lots of documentaries. Many of them are portraits of actual persons, living or dead.

But more on them later.

The festival opens with an American-made rom com, “Keep the Change,” whose lovers are young persons on the autistic spectrum. (As usual, the opening night film is followed by a lively bash, this year, like last, to be held at the Contemporary Jewish Museum.)

The closing night film, “Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story,” is just one of the docs centered on an individual, in this case the glamorous 1930s actress Hedy Lamarr who was also, unknown to most of her fans, a brilliant scientist and inventor. Some of the other documentaries focused on an individual are: “Ben-Gurion, Epilogue”; “Fritz Lang,” the great German-Jewish film director; “House of Z,” about fashion designer Zac Posen; and several about lesser-known indiduals. “The Young Karl Marx” isn’t a documentary but rather a drama about one of the founders of communism, directed by Raoul Peck (“I Am not Your Negro”). Then there’s also “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power,” a sequel (of course) to former Vice President Al Gore’s climate change film, “An Inconvenient Truth.”

Jewish film festivals typically feature films about World War II and/or the Holocaust. Some such films in the SFJFF are: “1945,” set in a Hungarian village in the titular year; “Fanny’s Journey,” the true story of a 13-year-old girl in occupied France; “Bye Bye Germany,” a film about the approximately 4,000 Jews who decided to remain in Germany after the war; “Paradise,” a Russian World War II drama that won the Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival; “Red Trees,” about a Jewish family that survived the war in Prague; “Tracking Edith,” the account of a woman who survived the war in Vienna and later became a Soviet spy. “Voyage of the Damned” is the revival of the 1976 film about the fate of the MS St. Louis, the ship filled with refugees from the Nazis that was turned away in Cuba and then in the United States and Canada. The all-star cast features, among others, Faye Dunaway, Max von Sydow, Orson Welles, James Mason, Julie Harris, and José Ferrer.

Obviously, lots of other kinds of films fill the festival’s days and nights. Films dealing with Israel and the middle east include “Personal Affairs,” a comedy about an Arab family living in Israel and Sweden; “Avanti Popolo,” a 1986 comedy about Egyptian soldiers stranded in the Sinai Desert (I’ll have to see the film to find out why its title is Mussolini’s battle cry to his fascist followers). Then there’s “In Between,” about three young Palestinian women; and “Stranger in Paradise,” a “fiction/documentary hybrid” about refugees from Africa and the middle-east.

What have I left out? A whole lot, of course, such as the music doc “Body and Soul: An American Bridge,” the story of the jazz classic, followed by a live performance; and “Bobbi Jene,” a doc about the dancer/choreographer, followed (though not on the same night) by a dance performance by the artist at ODC/theater, on San Francisco’s 17th Street. I also haven’t mentioned the various discussion programs, award ceremonies, and the like.

In addition to San Francisco’s Castro, the festival will be shown at the East Bay’s Albany Twin, Palo Alto’s Cinéarts, Oakland’s New Parkway (one film only–sorry!), and Marin’s Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center.

Membership in the Jewish Film Institute provides various benefits, such as invitations to sneak previews, early ticketing, reserved seating at the Castro, and more. For further information, visit www.jfi.org/membership.

For just tickets, and, of course, further information, visit the SFJFF website at www.sfjff.org, or contact jewishfilm@sfjff.or; or phone 415.621.0523.

–Renata Polt

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