"The Attack"
"The Attack"

Film festivals are just about perpetual temptations in the San Francisco Bay Area. The discerning filmgoer here has to pick and choose her obsessions. One of mine is the well-programmed, easily-accessible San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, running July 25 through August 12, whose 33rd annual program was just announced at its ritually haimishe press conference (Bagels n'schmear!  Strong coffee!  And fresh plums just plucked from one of the festival employee's tree!). 

An equally haimishe reason that I look forward to the Jewish Film Festival every year: it's my father's favorite film festival, and now that he's semi-retired, I can count on his enthusiastic companionship at a daunting number of movies a day.

Equally enthusiastic as they hit on highlights of the upcoming fest were the triumvirate of Executive Director Lexi Leban, Program Director Jay Rosenblatt, and Associate Programmer Joshua Moore. This year the Festival (the first and largest Jewish film festival in the world) has a 30% increase in programming over last year, showing 74 films, including 42 premieres, from 26 different countries, in numerous venues spread out over five Bay Area cities: San Francisco, Berkeley, Oakland, San Rafael and Palo Alto. 

This year's title, Life Through a Jew(ish) Lens, references a joke -- it was perhaps Jerry Seinfeld who first responded to the "Are you a Jew?" question with "Well, Jew-ISH." (The delightfully brief Jewish Film Festival trailer also references a joke: a priest and a rabbi walk into a bar!) In this instance the rubric is designed to cover a broad spectrum of films that expand upon the notion of Jewishness and might be tangential, such as the documentaries "The Trials of Muhammed Ali," "After Tiller," and "Gideon's Army," opening up a dialogue with its Jew(ish) audiences.

Narrative films include the charming, imaginative, family-friendly opening night film, "The Zigzag Kid," a Netherlands/Belgium co-production starring Isabella Rossellini, with director Vincent Bal and actor Jessica Zeljtmaker in person; the powerful and controversial "The Attack," about a Palestinian Israeli doctor who loses his wife in a suicide bombing, with director Ziad Doueri (TOH! interview here) and actor Ali Suliman in attendance; "Afternoon Delight," a contemporary sex comedy set in the Silver Lake area of Los Angeles, with director Jill Soloway; and the cloying night film, the French "Rue Mandar," with actor Richard Berry. 

The Festival's Freedom of Expression Award goes to prolific director Alan Berliner, with a shoeing of his latest film, "First Cousin Once Removed," about his cousin Edwin Honig, once a famed poet, translator, critic and university lecturer, now struggling with Alzheimer's. A spotlight on prolific actor-director Alex Karpofsky ("Girls") includes a clip show, screening of his film "Red Flag" and an onstage interview and discussion.