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33rd San Francisco Jewish Film Festival: Life and Films Through a Jew(ish) Lens

Photo of Meredith Brody By Meredith Brody | Thompson on Hollywood June 27, 2013 at 11:39AM

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!).
Barbara Sukowa in "Hannah Arendt"
Barbara Sukowa in "Hannah Arendt"

In a useful attempt to help their audience navigate through the thickets of its program, the catalogue breaks down its offerings into a number of categories: Lights, Camera, Take Action describes documentaries that can make people "think, feel, and act;" JewTube highlights offerings from television, including "Prisoners of War," the Israeli show that inspired the U.S.'s "Homeland," and "Arab Labor" Season Four, an Israeli JFF stock favorite (that I find painful, but hey!  there's no accounting for taste).

Icons are documentaries and fiction films about people ranging from Amy Winehouse ("Amy Winehouse: The Day She Came to Dingle") to Art Spiegelman ("The Art of Spiegelman"),  from "Hannah Arendt" to Jerry Lewis ("Jerry and Me") and from Wilhelm Reich ("The Strange Case of Wilhelm Reich") to Johnny Cash ("My Father and the Man in Black"). 

Borders films concern the complicated politics of the Middle East, including the aforementioned "The Attack," (banned in its director's country, Lebanon), 'Before the Revolution," about privileged Jews who had to flee Iran after the Shah was deposed, and "The Cutoff Man," in which an Israeli has to take work as the man who shuts off the water if you can't pay your bills. 

"Song and Dance" features a documentary, "Broadway Musicals: A Jewish Legacy," and several films inspired by it, including a singalong screening of "Annie," and the filmed version of the musical "The Producers."  Several of these family-friendly films are also included in the We Are Family section, as well as  Spielberg's "An American Tail" and the alluring "Commie Camp," about a "leftwing Jewish summer camp."  Aligned are the coming-of-age films featured in Growing Up, including the aforementioned "The Zigzag Kid" and "Rue Mandar" as well as the intriguingly-titled "My Awkward Sexual Adventure."

New York New York encompasses such diverse films as "Joe Papp in Five Acts," about the theater impresario who first ignored and then embraced his Judaism, "Sukkah City," about an international architectural competition of these small festive houses, and "Here One Day," a documentary made by a daughter about her mother's suicide. And WWII includes the usual (but seemingly less present in this edition of the JFF) Holocaust films, including "50 Children: The Rescue Mission of Mr. and Mrs. Kraus", paired with "The Real Inglorious Bastards."

Whew. That ought be enough for anyone, but they won't leave well enough alone: there are special events and plenty of live music, including a concert of Winehouse covers and originals by Crystal Monee Hall after the Castro Theatre showing in SF of "Amy Winehouse: The Day She Came to Dingle," and a reggae show featuring Doctor Israel and Dub Gabriel after a screening of "Awake Zion," about the musical connection between Rastafarians and Jews, at Oakland's Art Deco masterpiece the Grand Lake Theatre. 

And who knows just what awaits one at Art/Tech: Multiplatform Storytelling, in which two filmmakers, Theo Rigby and Liz Nord, will "showcase their innovative techniques for expanding the art of storytelling into the modern age," and the audience is encouraged to join in.  

As we Jew(ish) say: oy!

This article is related to: Festivals, San Francisco

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.