Proud of its diversity, the Bay Area hosts a lot of what I call identity film festivals—geared around a particular way people identify themselves, whether it’s ethnic, religious, gender, or sexual identity. And the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, now celebrating it’s 30th year, started the trend.
Being Jewish, this event has more meaning for me personally than the other identify festivals.
The 30th Annual San Francisco Jewish Film Festival begins Saturday, July 24 at the Castro with the Holocaust drama Saviors in the Night, and ends Monday, August 9 at the Rafael with the music documentary The Klezmatics: On Holy Ground. (That Saturday opening is unusual. I thought it was against the law for a major festival to open any day except Thursday.) In between those dates, it will serve up 101 screenings of 57 different films. Other venues include Berkeley Rep’s Roda Theatre, the CineArts at Palo Alto Square, and the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco.
In the series Tough Guys: Images of Jewish Gangsters in Film, the festival will spotlight part of the Jewish-American experience we generally don’t like to talk about. One of the films is actually a cheat—the original, 1931 version of Scarface is about an Italian gangster, although he was played by Yiddish Theater veteran Paul Muni. The other films in the spotlight, Lepke, King of the Roaring 20’s – The Story of Arnold Rothstein, and Bugsy, are genuinely about actual, historical, Jewish gangsters. A panel discussion will follow the Lepke screening.
Another spotlight, People of the Book, looks at writers through documentaries. The included films in the series are A Room and a Half, Grace Paley: Collected Shorts, Amos Oz: The Nature of Dreams, Ahead of Time, and Sayed Kashua – Forever Scared. (You could probably make up a drinking game around documentary titles that include colons and hyphens.)
That last title isn’t the only event at the festival built around Israeli Arab satirist Sayed Kashua. Two years ago, he wowed the festival (or at least me) with the first season of his pointed and hilarious sitcom, Arab Labor. This year, he’s winning the festival’s Freedom of Expression Award. The festival will also screen three episodes from his brand-new Arab Labor: Season 2.
The festival will also screen documentaries on everything from Utopia to Middle East Strife to baseball, assorted dramas, and several films about the Holocaust (just for one year, I want to see a Holocaust-free Jewish Film Festival). And a 1922 silent film, Hungry Hearts, with musical accompaniment by the Moab Strangers.