Cinegogue Summer Days: The pandemic version of the SF Jewish Film Festival

If this were a normal year, I’d be writing about an 18-day San Francisco Jewish Film Festival taking place in five theaters around the Bay Area. Instead, thanks to the pandemic, I’m writing about a four-day festival that will run mostly in our own homes.

I say mostly because opening night will take place at the Solano Drive-in in Concord, since drive-ins are still the only safe and open movie theaters in the Bay Area. You can watch either Truth to Power: Barbara Lee Speaks for Me (my capsule review is below) or On Broadway.

Solano Drive-in in Concord

Most of the films will be available to stream free through the four days of the festival. Of course, if you see one at its official screening time, you can stay after for the Q&A. Some of them cost money.

As I write this, I’ve seen four of the available films.

A- They Ain’t Ready For Me

Tamar Manasseh, an African American woman living in Chicago, spends her summers in a vacant lot in a dangerous neighborhood, bringing people together and keeping violence at bay. She’s also studying to be a rabbi, and yes, she was born Jewish and raised in a predominantly black synagogue. For Manasseh, healing the world is a requirement, and she seems to have the energy, determination, and charisma to do the job.

The official screening, with the Q&A, happens Saturday, July 18, at 12:00 noon.

B+ Shiva Baby

A young, Jewish woman secretly doing sex work goes to a shiva meal which turns into a nightmare. Her high school girlfriend wants to rekindle the relationship. Her overbearing mother drives her crazy. She loses her smartphone. Everyone asks about her future plans. And worst of all, the man paying her for sex arrives with his trophy wife. Shiva Baby turns out to be a less funny but more insightful comedy than the setup suggests.

If you want to be part of the director’s Q&A, stream the film at the July 17, 6:00 screening.

B Truth to Power: Barbara Lee Speaks for Me

I’ve been voting for Barbara Lee for decades, and I intend to continue doing so. But it’s nice to learn more about my congresswoman and to discover her interesting history. She was born in Jim Crow Texas, had two bad marriages, one of which left her homeless with two young boys. She worked with the Black Panthers. When George W. Bush called for complete control going to war, she was the only Congress member to vote against it. And yet, she later worked with Bush to help people with AIDS in Africa. It’s a conventional documentary, but it taught me a few things.

How is this a Jewish film? It isn’t, but the festival argues that it reflects “the Jewish value of Tikkun Olam- repairing the world through one’s actions.”

This documentary will open at the festival at the West Wind Drive-In in Concord on Thursday, July 16, at 8:30. As far as I can tell, it will not be streaming for the festival.

C+ Broken Barriers

Remember that part of Fiddler on the Roof where the third daughter marries a gentile? This 1919 silent film goes deeper into that part of the story (both films were based on Sholem Aleichem’s stories). In what’s probably the earliest Tevye movie shot in America, this story looks deeper into the relationships between Jews and Russians. But the main character, Khavah, is played by a woman too old for the part, and most of the cast can’t manage the complex acting that the story requires.

Broken Barriers will stream only once at the festival, Saturday July 18, at 6:00, with music by the Sascha Jacobson Quartet. (I saw the film without a soundtrack, so your experience of the film will probably be much better than mine.) The new restoration comes from very poor sources, resulting in soft and faded images.