San Francisco Jewish Film Festival

Of all the ethnic/religious/sexual identity film festivals in the Bay Area, the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival is my favorite. What do you expect, I’m Jewish? For a few weeks every summer, I’m not the only person in the congregation who wants to talk about movies.

It’s an anniversary, this time, the 25th San Francisco Jewish Film Festival–”the oldest such festival in the country. It runs from July 21 through August 8 in San Francisco, Berkeley, Mountain View, and San Rafael.

Speaking of Berkeley, Wheeler Auditorium (the Festival’s East Bay home since we lost the U.C.) is closed for seismic repairs. So this year the East Bay shows will screen at the Berkeley Repertory’s Roda Theater. Aside from the convenient location–”much closer to BART and reasonable parking than is Wheeler–”it’s bad news. The Roda is smaller, so there’s more danger of sell-outs. And it’s not really a movie theater; the seats are laid out for the live stage.

The festival opens with a very funny German movie (yes, I’ve seen it) called Go For Zucker–”An Unorthodox Comedy. Other films include The Talent Given Us, an American independent comedy that’s already been reviewed by Ebert and Roper (they split on it), a Russian love story called Arye, and several dramas from Israel.

Documentaries include Odessa…Odessa, about a once-vibrant Jewish community in the port town made famous by Sergei Eisenstein, and Massacre, which examines the 1982 slaughter of Palestinians in Lebanon. There’s also a study of a hippie commune and a real documentary whose description sounds an awful lot like A Mighty Wind.

Want revivals? The festival will screen four films written by blacklisted Jewish leftists. Three of these films, The Locket, Hotel Berlin, and The Search (which is perhaps the First Hollywood film about the Holocaust), were made in the late 1940s, just before the crackdown. The other, The Front, looks at the blacklist from the historical perspective of 20 years later. A panel discussion will follow the Castro screening of The Front.

The non-competitive San Francisco Jewish Film Festival will give its first award this year. But relax, it’s a life achievement award and they’ve already announced who’s getting it. Local independent filmmaker Jay Rosenblatt, plus once-blacklisted screenwriters Walter Bernstein and Norma Barzman, will receive the first Freedom of Expression awards. And yes, between them the two writers worked on three of the four scheduled blacklist films.

I’ll discuss some of the movies in more detail in the coming weeks. In the meantime, here are a few more goyishe films you might want to catch:

Recommended: For Heaven’s SakeCastro, Friday night. We’re getting plenty of Harold Lloyd this summer, and while I don’t rate this one as high as The Freshman or Kid Brother, it’s still one very funny movie. Introduced by Harold Lloyd’s granddaughter, Suzanne Lloyd, and accompanied on the Wurlitzer pipe organ by Chris Elliott. Part of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival.

Recommended: Pieces of April, Film Night in the Park, Creek Park, San Anselmo, Friday night. This independent comedy about April is more appropriate for November than July, but it’s fun any time of year. The April of the title is a young woman (Katie Holmes) trying to prepare a Turkey dinner for the family that long ago gave up on her. And everything goes wrong, both for her and the relatives heading her way. Warning: This is a DVD presentation.

Recommended: The Big Parade, Castro, Saturday night. MGM was still a new studio when it let King Vidor create the American cinema’s first great war epic (and its first great anti-war epic). A huge box-office hit in 1925, it’s still a powerful story 80 years later. Newly restored by George Eastman House, it will be introduced by John Gilbert’s daughter Leatrice Gilbert Fountain and accompanied by Chris Elliott on the Wurlitzer pipe organ. Part of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival.

Recommended: Monkey Business, Film Night in the Park, Creek Park, San Anselmo, Saturday night. The Marx Brothers’ first original movie is one of their most bizarre, anarchic, and surreal–”in other words, one of their funniest and best (its two predecessors were based on the Brothers’ Broadway hits). Warning: This is a DVD presentation.

Recommended: Freaks, Pacific Film Archive, Saturday night. A morality tale set in a circus sideshow, Freaks presents actual, severely deformed human beings, and dares you to look at them and accept them as full human beings. It also gives you a good scare. Certainly one of the strangest films ever to come out of that most conservative of studios, MGM. Part of the Archive’s Trouble In Paradise: Pre-Code Hollywood series.

Noteworthy: The Sideshow, Castro, Sunday morning. A circus film staring midget actor Little Billy Rhodes (the Munchkin Barrister in The Wizard of Oz), not as a sideshow freak, but the circus owner? This seems interesting. You could create your own do-it-yourself double-bill by catching Freaks Saturday night in Berkeley, then crossing the Bay to see The Sideshow in the morning. Introduced by Little Billy’s friend Gary Graver, and accompanied on the piano by Jon Mirsalis. Part of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival.

Noteworthy: Prem Sanyas, Castro, Sunday afternoon. I’ve never seen a silent film from India, and that’s exactly why I want to see this one. The fact that it’s a Buddha biopic makes me all the more curious. Accompanied by Ben Kunin and Debopriyo Sarkar on traditional Indian instruments. Part of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival.

Noteworthy: Darwin’s Nightmare, Pacific Film Archive, Sunday afternoon. I haven’t seen this documentary on the disruptions and destructions caused by the wrong fish in Lake Victoria, but it looks worth seeing.

Recommended: Best in Show, Rafael, Sunday night, free outdoor screening. Christopher Guest’s dog-show mockumentary has more than its share of hilarious moments. The rest of it is pretty funny, too. Part of the Rafael’s Unleashed: Classic And Cult Canine Flicks series.

Recommended: Chinatown, Parkway, Tuesday night. Forget it, Jake, it’s the Parkway. Robert Towne and Roman Polanski’s great noir from the –˜70s paints 1930’s Los Angeles as a town filled with double-crosses and every kind of perversity, but where honesty and water are in short supply. A benefit for the Greywater Guerillas.

Recommended: Saboteur, Pacific Film Archive, Wednesday. Early American Hitchcock, Saboteur retells one of his favorite stories: the innocent man chased both by police who think he’s committed a horrible crime and the spies who actually committed it. He did the same story better in The 39 Steps and North by Northwest, but Hitchcock could tell this story in his sleep, and he was very much awake when he told it this time.