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Deja Jew: 33rd San Francisco Jewish Film Festival

Photo of Meredith Brody By Meredith Brody | Thompson on Hollywood August 20, 2013 at 8:19PM

And for years I've considered the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival to be one of the best-programmed film events of the year. It suits my stereotype of the warm, haimishe Jewish grandma, setting a lavish buffet and urging you to try just a little more. It has a great track record in getting filmmakers to attend, insuring interesting introductions and lively q-and-a's after screenings. (More than one filmmaker noted the audience's proclivity to shout out opinions and corrections.)
Dr. Shelley Sella in "After Tiller"
Dr. Shelley Sella in "After Tiller"

Pairing "50 Children: The Rescue Mission of Mr. and Mrs. Kraus," about a wealthy American Jewish couple who managed to save 50 Jewish Austrian children, with a short about the most successful and quixotic OSS mission of WWII, "The Real Inglorious Bastards," was a perfect festival program: where else would you see these labors of love, the 63-minute "50 Children" made by a first-time director who married into the Kraus family, like the 31-minute "Bastards" an example of truth being stranger -- while just as compelling -- than fiction. Another swell pairing was "The Art of Spiegelman," about the creator of the Pulitzer-Prize-winning "Maus," (and occasional "New Yorker" cover artist), with the charming "Every Tuesday: A Portrait of the New Yorker Cartoonists," filmed partly at the regular Tuesday afternoon midtown lunches held after the cartoonists drop off their proposed sketches.  (Coincidentally the film that caused Spiegelman to complete Maus -- because he didn't want people to think he was influenced by Spielberg, instead of the other way around, "An American Tail," was screened as a family matinee.) 

A perfect three-doc day was the final Sunday at the beautifully-preserved Grand Lake Theater, crowded and festive screenings of "Commie Camp," about a long-lived socialist summer camp in the Catskills, followed by "The Trials of Muhammed Ali," and then "American Commune," about The Farm, the longest-lived US commune, revisited by the half-Jewish, half-Puerto Rican sisters who lived there as children.  (The audiences at "Commie Camp" and "American Commune" included many veterans of both, and the q-and-as afterwards devolved into informal reunions.)

Of the four venues I attended, the most successful was definitely the Grand Lake, opened in 1926, not far from the beautiful Lake Merritt from which it derives its name.  I hope next year the 34th Jewish Film Festival spends more than a three-day weekend there. I especially enjoyed its proximity to excellent restaurants and the Saturday Farmers Market -- the day I smuggled in a whole rotisserie chicken will be a hard one to beat, both gastronomically and filmically. We tore into it while enjoying "Jerry and Me," about a young Iranian woman's infatuation with movies, "Before the Revolution," about the Israeli colony in Iran before the Shah was deposed, and "Gideon's Army," about tireless, overworked, and underpaid public defenders.  Great movies, good food -- what could be better?  

The day after the festival ended, I took my parents to see "Blue Jasmine" in Berkeley after a Chinese lunch up the street, trying to feel like the Jewish Film Festival hadn't ended -- a feeling of deja jew.

This article is related to: Festivals, After Tiller

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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.