A Daredevil Photographer and the invention of a movie camera: The San Francisco Jewish Film Festival moves to Albany

Thursday evening, the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival spread out to the East Bay, screening films at the Albany Twin. This makes my commute much easier. The festival is still going on at the Castro through Sunday.

Here are the first two films I’ve seen so far at the Albany. Both are about photography, but in very different ways.

Picture of His Life

Amos Nachoum, a veteran of Israel’s Yom Kippur war, turned his PTSD into something incredible, magical, and insanely dangerous. As an underwater wildlife photographer, Nachoum photographs sharks, sea lions, and other giant predators of the deep, often very, very close (you should check out his photography). This documentary by Dani Menkin and Yonatan Nir follows him as he sets out to do something no one else has ever done: photograph a swimming Polar bear from inside the water. The film follows the complex planning of the mission and brings us close to Nachoum and his team. Watching this movie gives you an idea about how this man, who must be well into his 60s, still goes to remote places, dons scuba gear, takes a big camera, and goes into dangerous places.

I give this documentary an A.

What makes this a Jewish film? The subject, Amos Nachoum, is not only Jewish, but an Israeli war veteran.

The post-screening Q&A included the two directors, producer Nancy Spielberg (yes, Steven’s sister), Dr. Sylvia Earl, and Amos Nachoum, himself. Some highlights, edited for brevity and clarity.

  • We followed his dream…and we had to be so patient.
  • Spielberg: Thank God I wasn’t with you in the Canadian arctic eating flies.
  • On the ten years it took to make this film: This was the first film I started making. I made others while I was working on this one.
  • Nancy’s brother made Jaws. Considering the crew, we should have called the film Jews.
  • Nachoum on being in front of the camera: I wasn’t comfortable with a camera aiming at me, but I was focused on the job.
  • We have to tell the story of the ocean and the creatures that live here. They were here first. We need to treat them with respect.
  • Nachoum on photographing these creatures: I was focused behind the camera. I had to think about my safety and getting the photo. You can’t be aggressive. I had to wait 25 or 30 minutes for the bear to come over to me.

You have two more chances to see Picture of His Life at this festival:

  • Castro, Sunday July 28, 2:15
  • Rafael, Sunday August 4, 4:15

Beyond the Bolex

Documentarians can sometimes be too close to their subjects. About the time Alyssa Bolsey was entering film school, she discovered that her great-grandfather, Jacques Bolsey, designed and invented the Bolex, a Swiss-made, exceptionally versatile 16mm movie camera that was popular for decades. So in this movie, she tells his story. But she puts herself in the movie way too much, to the point of describing a dream. But there are plenty of wonderful moments for historical film tech geeks like me. My favorite: Barbara Hammer showing all the wonderful ways that this small and light camera could be handheld. Also, clips from now-famous filmmakers, including Wim Wender and Steven Spielberg, in their early work with this camera.

Bay Area silent film fans will enjoy a shot of the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum and some interviews with the Museum’s David Kiehn.

I give this documentary a B.

How is this a Jewish film? Jacques Bolsey was a European Jew who made it to America just in time, but lost family members in the Holocaust.

There was a post-screening Q&A with Alyssa Bolsey and cinematographer Pietro Zuercher. These highlights are edited for brevity and clarity.

  • I discovered this story at 18. It was this big family secret. I started interviewing my family. I wanted to know everything I could.
  • I learned filmmaking on digital. This was a world I didn’t understand. I wanted to learn about the world of celluloid.
  • The hard part was getting the money. Then getting the information; I wanted anything Bolex-related. Shooting it was the fun part.
  • One of my favorite events was interviewing Wim Wenders. Soon he was interviewing me.
  • We need to spend more time archiving. I have several computers that aren’t backed up.

You have one more chance to see this film, but you better move quickly. It plays at the Castro, today (Saturday, July 27), at 12:55 in the afternoon.