A yeshiva student once asked a beloved rabbi “Why do you always answer a question with another question?”
The rabbi thought for a moment, as if he was trying to explore his own soul. And then he responded, “Do I?”
Jokes and soul searching – that’s Judaism in a nutshell. Hopefully, there will be plenty of both in this year’s San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.
The Fest at the Castro, 2018
The festival opens at the Castro Theatre on Thursday, July 21, at 6:30pm. The movie is the Israeli comedy, Karaoke. The Castro will host the festival up to and through Monday, July 25, when you can see the first episode of Ken Burns’ upcoming PBS series, The U.S. and the Holocaust. Burns will be at the Castro for a discussion. The complete series will be on PBS, but I’m not sure when.
Then the festival goes to the Albany Twin in the East Bay, with more screenings from July 26 to the 31st. This section of the festival starts with a selection of shorts, and closes with Let It Be Morning, a satire (I think) about a Palestinian businessman getting caught in the country’s problems.
Opening movie: Karaoke
The third and last part of the festival takes place in your home. From August 1 through 7, you can stream 14 feature-length films and a selection of shorts.
Here are a few major events:
The Freedom of Expression Award goes to the Ukrainian-born filmmaker Sergei Loznitsa. I know nothing of his work, but he seems like an appropriate honoree this year. His documentary, Babi Yar. Context, plays Sunday, July 24, 11:30am, at the Castro.
Farewell, Mr. Haffmann
is this year’s Centerpiece Narrative film. Set in Vichy France, a Jewish jeweler must hide in what used to be his own store. The film plays at the Castro Saturday, July 23, at 8:30.
I haven’t seen any of the films above. Below are the ones I’ve seen and reviewed. As I write this, I’ve seen three of the films playing at the festival. They’re all documentaries. I’ll try to get more fiction films in my next round of reviews.
A- Bernstein’s Wall
Leonard Bernstein, dead over 30 years, narrates the film through recordings from throughout his life. Thankfully, the musical renaissance man left behind a considerable amount of biographical material, including written letters about his homosexuality. The film shows Bernstein as a brilliant, kind, and decent human being. Great music, too. This doc also played at last year’s Mill Valley Film Festival.
- Castro, Saturday, July 23, at 2:30pm.
B+ Bad Nazi, Good Nazi
How do you turn from being a mass murderer to one of the Righteous Among the Nations? Do you remember the Nazi officer in the movie, The Pianist? The one who saved the musician’s life? During the war, the real Wilm Hosenfeld had the job of starving Jews in the Warsaw ghetto. But instead, he saved lives and made a secret diary of the atrocities. Decades later, members of his family and hometown set out to make sure people know he was one of the angels. This documentary is mostly talking, entirely in German, so you may be spending a lot of your time looking at the bottom of the screen.
B+ To the End
I saw this documentary the day after the Supreme Court gutted the country’s environmental laws. That may have altered my reaction to the film. But here’s the review:
The problem with message documentaries is that while I usually agree with the filmmakers, I can’t help thinking that the only people who will ever see the film already agree with the message. But this climate crisis doc makes you want to go out and march. It focuses on four young women of color fighting for the Green New Deal. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez pops up frequently.
Why is this a Jewish film – aside from occasional sightings of Bernie Sanders? Seriously, Judaism tells us to perform Tikkun olam – repairing the world. And by 2022, that rule seems very literal.
- Castro Saturday, July 23, at 11:30am.