East Bay International Jewish Film Festival Preview

For some reason, I missed any news about the East Bay International Jewish Film Festival until Thursday afternoon. So I’m putting this together quickly. Here’s what I think of seven films playing at the Festival (these are the films I’ve seen – mostly at other festivals), in order from best to worst.

By the way, this is not the East Bay of Berkeley and Oakland. It’s farther east than that.

A 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.

A- Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles

Max Lewcowicz’s documentary about Fiddler on the Roof argues that the 1964 Broadway hit was a feminist work well ahead of its time. But that’s just part of it. Clips from the 1971 movie and several stage productions (not all of them in English or Yiddish) show the many ways the characters can be interpreted. In telling the play’s story, Lewcowicz touches on everything from the Hollywood blacklist to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s wedding. Read my full review.

B+ Tel Aviv On Fire

The plot is farcical, but it’s played straight enough to make you believe in the characters and the absurd situation, without sacrificing the laughs. Young and inept Salam (Kais Nashif) gets a break as a writer on a Palestinian soap opera, even though he can barely write a sentence. His secret: An Israeli officer has his own reasons for changing the show’s story. As Salam’s problems pile up (imagine having an artistic collaborator who can have you arrested), Salam gains self-assurance and hones his talent. Read my full review.

B+ Where’s My Roy Cohn?

Matt Tyrnauer’s documentary strongly argues that the famously malicious lawyer helped put our country into the mess we’re in. Cohn was certainly a major part of the problem. A self-hating Jew and a self-hating gay, he put Julius and Ethel Rosenberg on the electric chair, became famous as Joseph McCarthy’s chief counsel, worked for the mob, and taught Donald Trump how to be evil. Read my full review.

B+ Golda

his documentary takes a humane look at Golda Meir, the reluctant Prime Minister of Israel from 1969 through 1974. Fighting cancer yet continuing to smoke, she hated the job and its responsibilities. Seen as a feminist icon in America, she’s largely hated in Israel, mostly because of the Yom Kippur war. Directors Sagi Bornstein, Udi Nir, and Shani Rozanes used a recently-discovered, never aired, absolutely fascinating, 1977 TV interview as the film’s backbone. One thing bothered me: The filmmakers picked a man – and one who sounded like Werner Herzog – to read aloud excepts from her autobiography.

C+ The Song of Names

A young violin virtuoso fails to show up at the concert that would make him a star. Everything after that is either a flashback or a flashforward. The film works beautifully when it follows two young stepbrothers – one English, the other a Polish Jew who lost his family in the Holocaust. Unfortunately, that’s not what the movie is about. The main story, which lacks urgency and feels extremely unlikely, concentrates on the now middle-aged Anglo man searching for his Jewish stepbrother. Read my full review.

D How About Adolf?

I think this was supposed to be a satirical comedy. Or maybe a family drama. Either way, there are few laughs and fewer insights. The basic concept – a young, pregnant couple want to name their boy Adolf – can’t carry a feature-length film. So, the screenplay (and the stage play it is so obviously based on) has family and friends spilling out their deepest and darkest secrets. The result is a weak, contrived version of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.