All Photographs Courtesy San Francisco Jewish Film Festival

All Photographs Courtesy San Francisco Jewish Film Festival

Centerpiece Narrative film Run Boy Run.

July 2014

Jewish Film Festival Returns

Jim Van Buskirk

There’s a joke about this month’s movie event:

“What’s the name of the Jewish Film Festival?”

“Hollywood!” 

The gag turns on the notion that many notable Hollywood producers and directors are Jewish: Woody Allen, Billy Wilder, and Mel Brooks, to name a few. However, while some big-budget films may include Jewish involvement, the 34th Jewish Film Festival isn’t about Hollywood movies. Instead, the festival offers a banquet of feature films, documentaries, and shorts, along with a complement of discussion programs, international guests, music, comedy, awards and celebrations.

Festival program director Jay Rosenblatt is an internationally recognized film director, teacher, and former psychotherapist. Programmer Joshua Moore, who lives with his fiancée on Potrero Hill, is an independent filmmaker, whose debut feature, I Think It’s Raining, premiered at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival in 2011. According to the pair, the festival is a “secular synagogue,” a community event that’s as important to cinephiles as participating in Jewish High Holiday services are for the religious. 

There are a plethora of film festivals throughout the Bay Area, including San Francisco International, DocFest, Indie Fest, Silent, Center for Asian American Media, Berlin and Beyond, Frameline, Women’s, and Women of Color. Large or small, each has its focus, and devoted following. Many people attend multiple festivals, attracted by the opportunity to view interesting films that they aren’t likely to see anywhere else. Only ten of the seventy films programmed for the Jewish Film Festival currently have plans for distribution, including through NetFlix. And there’s little overlap between festivals. For example, Regarding Susan Sontag, directed by Berkeley resident Nancy Kates, focusing on the iconic international intellectual, a secular Jew, plays both the Frameline and Jewish film festivals, while Snails in the Rain, a gay-themed film set in Tel Aviv during the summer of 1989, wasn’t programmed by Frameline.

Rosenblatt and Moore estimated that thirty percent of their audiences aren’t Jewish, a percentage that’s increasing annually. They’d like to attract a younger crowd, since their core constituency is aging. Though the festival doesn’t have a full-fledged distribution department, selected films will be made available via Video On Demand on its website. 

The programmers emphasized that the festival offers a unique experience for viewing film. Not only can movies be seen in a beloved theater with a like-minded audience, most programs feature the film’s director, subject and/or star. The experience is distinct from watching movies at the multiplex or at home. All festival programs include a personalized iPhone introduction by the filmmakers, and often a musical component. For example, Comedy Warriors, in which military veterans use stand-up comedy to deal with the trauma of their disabilities, features Lewis Black and Zach Glifianakis. Jewish vets will attend the screening, which will be followed by a live performance by real-life comedy warrior Joe Kashnow. 

In additional to the many international offerings, local filmmakers are represented by Abby Ginzberg’s Soft Vengeance: Albie Sachs and the New South Africa and the world premiere of Richmond District residents’ Marcia Jarmel and Ken Schneider’s Havana Curveball, following their 13-year old son Mica’s commitment to deliver baseball equipment to kids in Cuba. 

This year the festival expands from one week to ten days, July 24 through August 10, at venues throughout the Bay Area: San Francisco’s Castro Theatre, CinéArts in Palo Alto, Grand Lake Theater in Oakland and the Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center in San Rafael. Special events are scheduled at the Berkeley Repertory Theater, Rayko Photo Center and the New Parkway Theater.

Moore and Rosenblatt could only think of one film at the festival that has Hollywood connections: Nancy Spielberg’s — Steven’s sister — documentary Above and Beyond: The Birth of the Israeli Air Force. 

For more information, contact the Box Office at 621.0523 or visit www.sfjff.org.

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