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The Great Stuff Coming To The 42nd S.F. Jewish Film Festival

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Peyton Klein said her first exposure to anti-Semitism was the notorious Charlottesville Unite The Right rally.  This high-schooler, who’s one of the interviewees in the documentary Repairing The World: Stories From The Tree Of Life, is not the only young person who mistakenly believed anti-Semitism ended with the Nazis’ defeat in World War II.  Its current flourishing, stoked by Rethuglican Party support, makes a cultural necessity out of supporting events offering more positive and/or nuanced portrayals of Jews.  

Enter the 42nd edition of the S.F. Jewish Film Festival (hereafter “SFJFF”), the oldest Jewish film festival in the U.S.  The 71 films from 14 countries in this year’s festival contain a mix of narratives, documentaries, and shorts.   There are two options to catch the SFJFF offerings.  For those willing to catch a SFJFF film in theater, they can go to either S.F.’s Castro Theatre or Albany’s Albany Twin from July 21-31, 2022.  For those who still prefer to watch films online, the JFI Digital Screening Room will be available from August 1-7, 2022.  

The subjects covered in SFJFF 42’s films include parenting and the emotional attachment to stuff (Love And Stuff), two gay Jewish men having different opinions on conversion therapy (The Therapy), two actresses of different races competing to play Anne Frank (Anne), a century-old rivalry between two progressive Jewish summer camps (Kinderland), and a fight over a statue honoring the Nazi who saved the life of a famed Jewish musician (Bad Nazi, Good Nazi).

Here are a dozen SFJFF 42 films to try:

10 Questions For Henry Ford–Henry Ford may have been an auto industry titan, but he was also a very public anti-Semite.  Andy Kirshner’s hybrid documentary assesses Ford’s legacy and history through considering the Model T inventor’s words and deeds over his lifetime.  In a way, the present day existence of both anti-Semitism and Elon Musk shows what Ford represented unfortunately still lives on in America. 

Babi Yar. Context–Ukrainian director Sergei Loznitsa is this year’s recipient of the Freedom of Expression Award.  His new documentary revisits the Babi Yar massacre of September 1941. The Nazis, aided by Ukrainian collaborators, massacred 33,771 Jewish men, women, and children without any opposition.  To answer the question of why the massacre happened, Loznitsa draws on archival footage shot by German and Soviet soldiers recording their campaigns in Ukraine as well as a retelling of events by survivors of the period.  Loznitsa’s film took a Best Documentary Award at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival.

Babi Yar. Context

Bernstein’s Wall–SFJFF 42’s Centerpiece Documentary is a biography of the man popularly known as the composer of the music for “West Side Story.”  But as Douglas Tirola’s film shows, Bernstein wore several other cultural hats as well.  They included conductor of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, antiwar and civil rights activist, and gay man struggling with his sexuality.

Charm Circle–Nira Burstein’s documentary is a portrait of her eccentric family, who live in the New York City borough of Queens.  The members of Burstein’s family include a former occupational therapist with mental health issues, a developmentally disabled champion hugger, and a bride-to-be about to enter a polyamorous relationship.  This family may have a lot of heated discussions, but they’re still devoted to each other.

Farewell, Mr. Haffmann–SFJFF 42’s Centerpiece Narrative is this adaptation of Jean-Philippe Daguerre’s Moliere Award-winning play set in Vichy France.  Jewelry shop owner Joseph Haffmann (the legendary Daniel Auteuil) had planned to escape Paris before the Nazis occupied the city.  When he becomes trapped in the occupied capital, he’s now at the mercy of his former employee Francois Mercier and his wife Blanche, who might turn him in to the Germans.  With increasing shortages and deportations, the temptation to betray the Jewish jeweler steadily increases.

Let It Be Morning–SFJFF 42’s Closing Night Film is directed by Eran Kolirin (“The Band’s Visit”).  Successful middle-aged Palestinian businessman Sami had returned to his home village just to attend his brother’s wedding.  But his return visit turns out to be far longer than expected thanks to an Israeli military lockdown of unknown duration.  Unfortunately for Sami, the lockdown upends his successful existence in more ways than one.  Soon, he finds himself forced to reassess the direction of his life.

My Name Is Andrea–Radical feminist thinker Andrea Dworkin definitely wasn’t shy about calling out sexism and rape culture in the mid- to late-20th century.  Pratibha Parmar’s SFJFF 42 Local Spotlight hybrid documentary offers both a portrait of Dworkin’s complex life and a look at how feminists and non-feminists responded to her work.  At the core of Dworkin’s work was the radical idea that women should be treated as fully human.

A Reel War: Shalal–Picture researcher Karnit Mandel accidentally discovers in an Israeli archive seized never-before-seen footage of Palestinian life both before and after 1948 (the year of Israel’s independence or the Nakba depending on who you ask).  But her efforts to uncover more such footage runs into obstruction from the Israeli military bureaucracy, which denies having the footage and even prevents her search for additional footage of this nature.  Now Mandel tries to return the footage she does find to the people who appear in the films.  But she doesn’t expect problems from both Israelis and Palestinians. 

Remember This–The SFJFF 42 special Center Stage presentation is an adaptation of the one-man play “Remember This: The Lesson Of Jan Karski.”  Actor David Strathairn plays the World War 2 Polish Resistance fighter Jan Karski.  Forgotten for decades, Karski would return to public attention thanks to filmmaker Claude Lanzmann, who would use the former resistance fighter’s account of the suffering he witnessed in the Jewish ghetto and a death camp in his seminal documentary “Shoah.”  Could what Karski witnessed have compelled Roosevelt and Churchill to stop further Jewish deaths?

Shouting Down Midnight

Shouting Down Midnight–Remember when Texas State Senator Wendy Davis mounted a 13-hour filibuster of heinous Texas anti-abortion bill SB5?  The bill may have ultimately passed, but Davis’ fight riveted the world.  Gretchen Stoeltje’s rousing documentary shows how Davis’ 2013 effort inspired a new generation of feminist activists.   

Simchas And Sorrows–What happens when you sock a person with both Catholic and Jewish guilt?  Meet Agnes, ex-Catholic turned atheist turned prospective Jew.  To marry the love of her life Levi, she succumbs to pressure from her future in-laws to convert to Judaism.  But Agnes and Levi find learning to incorporate Judaism into their lives and satisfying their families’ expectations turns out to be far trickier than expected.  Genevieve Adams’ quirky dramedy serves as SFJFF 42’s Next Wave Spotlight

Summer Nights–Ohad Milstein’s Ophir Award-winning documentary might be called a home movie.  It follows Milstein’s 6-year-old son Alva during the summer before he enters first grade.  The film observes the boy as he enjoys such small pleasures as the sight of a billowing curtain, the feel of a butterfly in his hands, and the taste of honey spread on bread.  But it’s also a tale of the filmmaker’s relationship to his son, one challenged by finding a way of explaining the concept of death to the boy. 

(For tickets and further information about SFJFF 42 offerings, go here.)

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Peter Wong

Peter Wong

I've been reviewing films for quite a few years now, principally for the online publication Beyond Chron. My search for unique cinematic experiences and genre dips have taken me everywhere from old S.F. Chinatown movie theaters showing first-run Jackie Chan movies to the chilly slopes of Park City. Movies having cat pron instantly ping my radar.

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