The San Francisco Jewish Film Festival Kicks Off Tomorrow
The most renowned Jewish film festival in the world, the 34th San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, kicks off tomorrow night at the Castro Theater for a three-week run of stunning, independent films from across the globe. Through every genre of cinema–from action, to documentary, to comedy, to romance–the festival’s line-up celebrates Jewish-ness for people from all walks of life to enjoy and embrace.
18 countries are represented in the festival’s 70-film line-up, which includes 7 world premieres. Housing the screenings are several theaters across the Bay Area, including Oakland’s Grand Lake Theater and New Parkway, the Smith Rafael Film Center in San Rafael, CinéArts in Palo Alto, and more.
Opening the festival is The Green Prince, a poignant docu by Nadav Schirman that follows the journey of Mosab Hasaan Yousef, a young Palestinian who grew up hating Israelites. Following being captured by the Israeli security service, the Shin Bet, he comes to realize the true brutality of his own people’s tactics, from suicide bombings to needless torture, compelling him to work for Israel as a spy, the greatest shame known to Palestinians. Pepe Danquart’s sweeping narrative drama Run Boy Run, the festival’s centerpiece narrative picture, tells the story of a young boy struggling to survive in the fields and forests of wartime Poland, evading Nazis and scrounging for food and meeting strangers–both helpful and harmful–along the way.
Diversity is a key theme throughout the festival, exploring subjects that reach beyond the Jewish community, but viewing them from a Jewish perspective. Hannah Espia’s Transit, which screens this Friday at the Castro, follows the hard lives of Filipino workers in Tel Aviv who are under constant threat of deportation. The Village of Peace, a docu by filmmakers Ben Schuder and Niko Philipides, takes us inside the titular community in the Negev Desert, founded by African Americans from Chicago in the ’60s who journeyed a great distance to make a place for themselves in the Promised Land.
On the lighter side of the festival are several comedic films. In Arlo and Julie , by director Steve Mims, a quirky couple in Austin begin receiving a series of envelopes in the mail, with each containing puzzle pieces to a larger jigsaw. Part romance, mystery, and comedy, the film is a lighthearted affair with a great cast and a charming vintage soundtrack. Capturing comedy as a tool for healing is Comedy Warriors, a documentary about military veterans who cope with their injuries by facing their fears in front of an audience and doing stand-up comedy. Seasoned comedians like Lewis Black, B.J. Novak, and Bob Saget act as the soldiers’ mentors, guiding them on their journey to becoming successful comedians.
A personal favorite for me, Julie Cohen’s tight docu The Sturgeon Queens outlines the history of Russ & Daughters, one of New York’s best Jewish smoked fish shops, celebrating its 100-year anniversary this year. Narrated by long-time customers, the film tempts us with delicious-looking food and glowing endorsements by celebrity R&D devotees (Maggie Gyllenhaal, Mario Batali), creating a loving portrait of one of the city’s most charming old-school institutions.
Receiving the 2014 Freedom of Expression Award is Theodore Bikel, who will be in attendance for the July 31st screening of Theodore Bikel: In the Shoes of Sholem Aleichem at the Castro.
For tickets and more info, visit sfjff.org. Stay tuned for interviews and reviews from the festival.