Jewish Film Festival

Now we come to the festival that merges what some friends have called my two religions: Judaism and Cinema.

The 31st San Francisco Jewish Film Festival opens at the Castro on Thursday, July 21 with Mabul (The Flood), and closes at the Rafael on Monday, August 8 with The Matchmaker. In between those dates it will screen 39 features and 19 shorts in five venues around the Bay Area.

As I write this, I’ve only seen one feature and one short. But the feature is a long one, and a near-great one: Spartacus. The film’s producer and star, Kirk Douglas, will be awarded this year’s Freedom of Expression Award, in large part for his courageous decision to give blacklisted author Dalton Trumbo a screen credit for this expensive epic. The short is a Simpsons episode (“Like Father, Like Clown”) that’s part of the Jews In Toons Program.

Among the promising films I haven’t yet seen is a new comedy by Berlin-based filmmaker Dani Levy, whose previous festival offerings were the very funny Go for Zucker and the pretty funny My Hitler.

Poland has played a major role in Jewish history, and this year the festival focuses a spotlight  on the country that so many American Jews came from. The four films include an espionage thriller set under Communism called Little Rose, a Holocaust drama (Joanna), and two documentaries: 100 Voices: A Journey Home and Torn.

Frankly, I’ve often wished that, for just one year, they would put together a Holocaust-free Jewish Film Festival. But this isn’t the year. In addition to Joanna, there’s Eichmann’s End: Love, Betrayal, Death, The Hangman, In Another Lifetime, Otto Frank, Father of Anne, and others.

Other titles that sound promising (remember, I haven’t seen them) include Bobby Fischer Against the World, Next Year in Bombay, Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness, and Connected: An Autoblogography about Love, Death and Technology.