Keep the Change & The Jewish Film Festival Opening Night

The San Francisco Jewish Film Festival opened Thursday night with Rachel Israel’s Keep the Change, a romantic comedy set in the world of serious mental disabilities. That may sound disturbing, but it’s lovely and moving.

The event started almost on time with a selection of past trailers. All of them were funny, including this year’s celebration of San Francisco summer.

That was followed by Executive Director Lexi Leban, giving the traditional speech about what a wonderful festival it will be. She reminded us of the Exodus spotlight on refugees. She told us about the new Audience Awards and asked people to participate; “We all know what happens when you don’t vote.” She thanked the board of directors, the sponsors, and the volunteers.

Then Program Director Jay Rosenblatt came on stage to introduce the film. But first, he mentioned some other upcoming films on the schedule. He then brought up Rachel Israel , who wrote and directed the night’s film,.

The movie started 35 minutes after the official starting time. For a film festival opening night, that’s pretty good.

In some ways, Keep the Change feels like a conventional romantic comedy. David is rich; Sarah is poor. She’s upbeat; he’s sour. His mother disapproves. But there’s the big difference: She excepts her autism; he doesn’t. In fact, he starts out looking down on her and everyone else in their support group. It’s worth noting that the actors who play David and Sarah – Brandon Polansky and Samantha Elisofon – have mental disabilities very much like those of their characters. Rachel Israel created a funny and warm comedy that may open your eyes to the people around you.

I give it an A-.

Keep the Change will screen three more times at the Festival. I don’t know if it will get a theatrical release after these:

What makes this a Jewish film? David and Sarah are both Jewish, and their support group meets at the JCC.

I should mention that Israel first made Keep the Change as a 16-minute short in 2013. What we saw was the new, long version.

After the film, Israel, Polansky, Elisofon, and two other cast members came on stage for a question and answer session. Here are some highlights, edited for brevity and clarity.

  • Israel on the genesis of the story: I’ve known Bandon for 16 years. The story comes from some of his dating experiences.
  • Elisofon on her part: My character is actually very different from me. Sarah gave too much information. Samantha doesn’t do that in real life.
  • Polansky: Everybody deserves a break in life…except O.J. Simpson.
  • Elisofon on the experience: It was extraordinary and wonderful. Very easy-peasy. The focus was on improvising.
  • It’s not about professional and non-professional actors. It’s about the neurotypical and us. Using neurotypicals to play these parts is like putting on blackface. Liberals only care about minorities that are fashionable at the moment.
  • Israel on why she made the character of David so wealthy: I thought it was interesting that he has a high social status, but struggles to find a place in the world. I think his mother is coming from a place of love.

Note: I corrected this article on Saturday, July 22, adding the dates and times for other Keep the Change screenings.