The Bay Area hosts a lot of what I call identity film festivals. These concentrate on a particular group of people – both on the screen and in the audience. We have film festivals for Asians, South Asians, Asian-Americans, LGBTQ, Iranians, Irish, women, and atheists. I can’t properly cover them all. But I try to cover the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival. After all, I’m Jewish.
The Castro part of the festival bookends with two showbiz documentaries. On Thursday, July 19, the festival opens with Love, Gilda, about the great comedian Gilda Ratner. Her Saturday Night Live partner Laraine Newman will be in attendance. The San Francisco part of the festival will end, also at the Castro, with Sammy Davis, Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me, about the African-American entertainer who converted to Judaism.
But that isn’t the end of the festival. It will also run in Palo Alto’s CinéArts Theatre (July 21 – 26), the Albany Twin (July 26 – August 2), Oakland’s Piedmont Theatre (August 3 – 5), and the Rafael (also August 3 – 5).
Other big films in the lineup that I hope to see include:
- The City Without Jews: I’m really looking forward to this one! This recently-discovered 1924 silent satire suggests that when the Jews are expelled from society, things don’t get better; they get worse. The live musical accompaniment will be performed by Sascha Jacobsen and the Musical Art Quintet. This will be the film’s first screening outside of Austria, ever.
- Budapest Noir: This crime thriller, set in 1936 Budapest, deals with the rise of Fascism. It was shot by cinematographer Elemer Ragalyi, who also lensed last year’s incredible 1945.
- Freedom of Expression Award: The Fourth Estate: The festival honors documentarian Liz Garbus for her exceptional career, and screens her latest film, which examines the New York Times’ coverage of President Trump.
- To Dust: An orthodox cantor, mourning his wife, becomes obsessed with what happens to a human body in the ground. Matthew Broderick plays the biology teacher that he comes to for help.
The City Without Jews
The schedule includes several spotlights – groups of films that share a theme. These include:
- Austria’s Sordid Past: To a greater extent than many Austrians might want to admit, they were enthusiastic partners in the Third Reich. In addition to The City Without Jews, this spotlight includes Murer–Anatomy of a Trial and the documentary, The Waldheim Waltz.
- Black•ish / Jew•ish: The four documentaries in this series look at the relationship between African Americans and Jewish Americans. They include Satan & Adam, about two blues musicians, and the before-mentioned Sammy Davis, Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me.
- Hands On / Hands Off: With the Harvey Weinstein revelations and the #MeToo movement, this spotlight had to happen. In addition to two documentaries and a panel discussion, it includes the pre-code classic Baby Face, which will be screened in 35mm.
Satan & Adam
Every Jewish film festival has two unspoken spotlights: The Holocaust and Israel/Palestine. Not that long ago, I hoped for a Holocaust-free Jewish film fest. But with the way the world, and our country, is going, I realize that they’re still very important.
With that statement out of the way, here are a few random films that look interesting:
- The End of Meat: I’ve been a vegetarian since 1970, so I’m particularly interested in a documentary about the environmental issues caused by raising and slaughtering animals.
- The Last Suit: An 80-year-old Holocaust survivor sets out on long trip to fulfill a promise. According to the Festival’s website, he “seems to be mysteriously blessed, as the very people he fights with become his guardian angels.”
- Red Cow: There’s a Jewish myth that the sacrifice of a red cow will herald the rebuilding of the Temple. This coming-of-age drama follows a teenage girl in a West Bank settlement who thinks she has the right cow.
The Last Suit
The Festival will screen 67 films overall from 22 different countries. More than half of the films were directed by women.
I’ll be viewing and reviewing as many of the films as possible before the festival opens. You can follow my reports on this particular festival.
Note: I corrected a misspelling on Thursday, June 21. My thanks to Joel Rubinstein for bringing this to my attention.