The 33rd San Francisco Jewish Film Festival brings its top 15 films to Marin’s Smith Rafael Film Center—Saturday, August 10 through Monday, August 12, 2013
The 33rd San Francisco Jewish Film Festival (SFJFF) wraps 20 days of programming this weekend in San Rafael at the Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center, screening 15 of the festival’s top films over three days. Five films will screen on Saturday, starting at noon; six films (four full length and two shorts) will screen on Sunday, starting at noon and five films (four feature and 1 short) will screen on Monday, starting at 4:30 PM. The festival, which opened on July 25, 2013 and runs across seven Bay Area venues, is enjoyed by film aficionados far and wide for its great cinema and its expansive and refreshing view of contemporary Jewish culture. This year’s theme is “LIFE THROUGH A JEW(ISH) LENS” and the festival has offered 74 films from 26 countries, with a wide spectrum of stimulating discussions, international guests, awards, and wonderful parties. The Marin segment takes place in one of the Bay Area’s most sophisticated theatres, the Smith Rafael Film Center, and is a no-brainer for those living South of the Golden. For full festival programming, visit www.sfjff.org.
ARThound’s top picks:
SATURDAY, AUGUST 10
Dancing in Jaffa How do you get Jewish and Palestinian children to put aside their differences and actually work together? Ballroom dancing! World champion ballroom dancer Pierre Dulaine, was born in Jaffa in 1944, when it was still part of Palestine, and he returns there after 30 years to teach grade-school children ballroom dance in a society ridden with racial animosity. Dulaine’s Dancing Classrooms program, immortalized in the 2006 fictional film Take the Lead, with Antonio Bandaeras as Dulaine, teaches poise, grace, respect, social awareness, and tolerance —all highly important life skills— through dance. Director Hilla Medalia captures Dulaine as he introduces his Dancing Classrooms program to three ethnically mixed Jaffa-based schools and selects the most focused dancers to prepare for a citywide competition, pairing Jews with Palestinians and forcing the kids and their families to confront their beliefs and prejudices head-on. In the dancing itself, we witness real progress and in the dance of life, great strides. Suave Dulaine navigates all the tantrums and drama that unfolds and then dishes out some of his own, which is pure joy. West Coast Premiere. Screens noon (12 PM) Sat, August 10, 2013. (Dir: Hilla Medalia, Israel, 2013)
SUNDAY, AUGUST 11
First Cousin Once Removed (2 PM, runs 78 min) Award-winning filmmaker, Alan Berliner, recipient of the festival’s Freedom of Expression Award (previous winners—Elliott Gould, Kirk Douglas) this year, is known for creating original, personal and highly inventive documentaries. In this case he’s created a poignant end of life portrait of the gifted poet/translator Edwin Honig, his mother’s cousin, capturing his struggle with Alzheimer’s during the last five years of his life. In life he soared— the Brown University professor was the recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship, a revered translator of foreign poetry, and was knighted by both Spain and Portugal. As a family man, he had his failings. Berliner’s goal in this disquieting film is not to be sentimental or overtly tragic, rather to show what the loss of memory has done to this life and the lives of those around Honig. Memory is the glue that binds our identity together. While Honig occasionally responds with a breakthrough—some comments that borders on the profound, some beautiful lines of poetry—the once knowing glint in his eye has been replaced by a dull blank stare and he can’t track thoughts or remember much of anything. Edwin Honig has basically exited. If you saw Michael Haneke’s Amour (2012), or Phyllida Lloyd’s bio-pic The Iron Lady (2012) with Meryle Streep depicting Thatcher as a frail old woman blighted by Alzheimer’s, or Richard Hare’s biopic Iris (2001) about novelist-philosopher Iris Murdoch and her experiences with Alzheimer’s, this film is in that vein but is smattered with real archival footage of a man of literary stature. It goes without saying that it is also a profound wake-up call to all of us who are aging. (Dir: Alan Berliner, U.S., 78 min) Screens 2 PM, Sunday, August 11, 2013.
MONDAY, AUGUST 12
The Art of Spiegelman with 21 min short Every Tuesday: A Portrait of the New Yorker Cartoonists (70 min total) Art Spiegelman is the talented artist behind Maus, the 1991 graphic novel about the Holocaust as filtered through a contentious father-son relationship. The work, in the form of comics, attracted unprecedented critical attention including an exhibition at New York’s MoMA and a special Pulitzer Prize in 1992 and really helped bring underground comics to mainstream attention. This intimate documentary portrait of Spiegelman, who is not as decipherable as his work, follows him at work and at home where he interacts with his daughter and his French wife, Francoise Mouly, art editor of The New Yorker. (Dir: Clara Kuperberg, Joëlle Oosterlinck, France, 2010, 44 min)
The film finds its perfect companion in Rachel Loube’s 21 minute documentary, Every Tuesday: A Portrait of the New Yorker Cartoonists, which takes viewers behind-the-scenes and into The New Yorker magazine’s submission process for its cartoons. Loube studied sociology at Brandeis University and what a brilliant cross-section she delivers—like the characters and situations they so skillfully depict and put captions to; these talented creators have their own issues too, which become apparent as they confront a continual cycle of acceptance and rejection. (Dir: Rachel Loube, U.S., 2012) Screens 4:40 PM, Monday August 12, 2013
Closed Season (Ende der Schonzeit) On a secluded farm in the Black Forest during WWII, a German couple Fritz (Hans-Jochen Wagner) and Emma (Brigitte Hobmeier) take a huge risk and allow a young Jew named Albert (Christian Friedel) to hide out and work on their farm despite their own anti-Semitism and Nazi patrolmen within their own community. The psychological drama intensifies as the impotent farmer Frtiz (Hans-Jochen Wagner) asks the cultured Albert to help his wife Emma (Brigitte Hobmeier), conceive a child. Wrought with eroticism and unexpected plot twists, this spellbinder is bookended by poignant scenes set in 1970s Israel starring Rami Heuberger (Dear Mr. Waldman, JF2007). Official Selection Berlin Film Festival and Winner Best Actress and Best Ecumenical Jury Prize, Montreal World Film Festival. (Dir: Franziska Schlotterer, Germany, Israel, 2012) Screens 8:20 PM, Monday, August 12, 2013 and runs 104 min.
Hannah Arendt (runs 109 min) This trending bio-pic may be German director Margarethe von Trotta’s most engrossing drama. It sold out almost immediately when the festival hosted its Northern CA premiere at the Castro Theatre on July 28, 2013. It’s a beautifully-conceived take on the life, career and loves of German-Jewish philosopher and political theorist Hannah Arendt that introduces us to her controversial role in history and to her as a woman. Already a successful writer, The New Yorker magazine sent Arendt, then a teaching scholar, to Jerusalem in 1961 to witness and write about the trial of Adolph Eichmann, one of the architects of the Nazis’ genocidal “final solution.” Transfixed and stirred, Arendt began to formulate her now famous concept, “the banality of evil,” that essentially excused Eichmann’s guilt and opened up a flood of controversy that changed her life forever. Using black-and-white footage from the actual Eichmann trials and weaving a narrative that spans three countries, this stunning film literally and quite effectively takes us back in time to talk through the events as she must have experienced them. Arendt’s relationship with her mentor and lover, the philosopher Martin Heidegger, who sympathized with the Nazi’s, is an interesting but under-explored part of the film. Sukowa is nothing short of brilliant as razor-sharp and implacable Arendt. Of late, the times have been far and few between when we’ve seen a vital, confident, independent-thinking middle-aged female actor take on such responsibility in film–the burden of examining and explaining humanity’s unthinkable act—the Holocaust. And questions naturally emerge about gender. We are left to wonder if a male had done the same reportage and come to the same conclusion, would there have been such a backlash against him? Would he have been accused of being so unfeeling? We are also left to wonder if she ever softened her position after the articles and the book. Among the leading characters are philosopher Martin Heidegger, New Yorker editor William Shawn, and author Mary McCarthy, a close friend and confidant (played by twice Oscar nominated Janet McTeer). (Dir: Margarethe von Trotta, Germany, 2012) (The film has already screened at SFJFF (accommodating a San Francisco audience) but is now playing at the Smith Rafael as part of their non-festival line-up. It screens on Saturday and Sunday at 1:45 PM, 6:30 PM, 9 PM and on Monday at 6:30 PM and 9 PM.)
FULL SFJFF SAN RAFAEL SCHEDULE:
SATURDAY, AUGUST 10
Dancing in Jaffa West Coast Premiere. (Noon) (Dir: Hilla Medalia, Israel, 2013) See review above.
American Commune (2 PM, runs 90 min) (dir: Nadine Mundo, Rena Mundo Croshere, U.S., 2013) This portrait of an unusual community and its legacy focuses on the Farm, led by hippie holy man Stephen Gaskin and his wife Ina May, godmother of the modern midwifery movement. Directors: Nadine Mundo, Rena Mundo Croshere. 90 min.
Arab Labor: Season 4 (4:05 PM, runs 80 min) (Dir Shai Capon, Israel, 2013) They’re back! The Alian family returns, in an all-new season of the hilarious hit series Arab Labor. Writer/creator Sayed Kashua (SFJFF Freedom of Expression Award 2010) puts issues front and center in all their intricacy, finding humor in the most unlikely places. 80 min.
The Trials of Muhammad Ali (6 PM, runs 92min) Muhammad Ali is not Jewish, but certain films, when placed in a Jewish context, inspire truly Jewish conversation. In the early 1960s, Ali threw off what he called his “slave name,” Cassius Clay, joined the ranks of the Nation of Islam and refused to serve in the Vietnam War. Director: Bill Siegel. 92 min.
Rue Mandar (8:10 PM, runs 95 min) (Dir. Idit Cebula, France, 2012) This charmingly poignant French film, set in a predominantly Sephardic Jewish community, reminds us that the messy, sometimes humorous and often bittersweet business of death can lead to new beginnings. With Emmanuelle Devos.
SUNDAY, AUGUST 11
The Last White Knight with 5 min short The Basketball Game (noon, runs 90 min total) (Paul Saltzman, Canada, 2012) West Coast Premiere (Dir Hal Snider. Canada, 2012) Filmmaker Paul Saltzman returns to Greenwood, Mississippi, where as a Civil Rights activist he was beaten in 1965, and initiates a remarkable meeting with the man who attacked him, who is also the son of the man who murdered Medgar Evers. (With Morgan Freeman, Harry Belafonte.) In The Basketball Game, a wonderfully vivid 5 minute animation, director Hart Snider revisits his first time at Jewish summer camp where a cultural mixer with a group of Gentiles raised with anti-Semitic attitudes turns into a basketball game of epic proportions. A poignant tale of tolerance mixed with humor in the face of stereotypes
First Cousin Once Removed (2 PM, runs 78 min) (Dir: Alan Berliner, U.S., 78 min) See review above.
Life According to Sam (3:55 PM, runs 93 min) (Dir: Andrea Nix Fine, Sean Fine, U.S., 2013) Academy Award winning directors Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine have created an emotionally uplifting chronicle of determination and optimism in the face of terrible odds, with this portrait of Sam Berns, a 13-year-old with progeria, an extremely rare age-accelerating disease. 93 min.
The Strange Case of Wilhelm Reich (6 PM, runs 111 min) (Dir: Antonin Swoboda, Austria, 2012) Klaus Maria Brandauer stars as the controversial Jewish psychoanalyst and experimental scientist Wilhelm Reich in his later years in Cold War America. Austrian filmmaker Antonin Svoboda probes the life of a visionary who could never have imagined the power his ideas would continue to have. 111 min
We Are Not Alone (8:15 PM, runs 90 min) (Dir: Lior Har-Lev, Israel, 2011) What would you do if the world was ending in a week, and the most fascinating person to ever come into your life does so at that moment? Eddy (Ohad Knoller) must choose between his dream of living another life or taking a chance on someone in this one.
MONDAY, AUGUST 12
The Art of Spiegelman (4:30 PM) with 21 min short Every Tuesday: A Portrait of the New Yorker Cartoonists (70 min total) See review above.
The Zigzag Kid (6:10 PM, runs 95 min) (Dir: Vincent Bal, Belgium, Netherlands, 2012)
Featuring Isabella Rossellini, director Vincent Bal’s fast-paced, superbly written feature, based on the popular novel by David Grossman, is a delightful mixture of genres: detective story and coming-of-age tale, with a dose of romance.
Closed Season (Ende der Schonzeit) (8:20 PM, runs 104 min) (Dir: Franziska Schlotterer, Germany, Israel, 2012) See review above.
The 33rd San Francisco Jewish Film Festival at Smith-Rafael Film Center: Saturday, August 10 through Monday August 12, 2013. The Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center is located at 1118 Fourth Street, San Rafael. Tickets: no need for pre-purchase, there are ample tickets for all screenings. There will be a festival box office at the theatre which opens one hour before the first scheduled screening of the day—11 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday and 3:30 PM on Monday. Tickets are $12 general public; $10 Jewish Film Forum (JFF) members and $11 seniors (65+) and students with ID. 10-FLIX vouchers for 10 screenings are $100 General Public and $90 JFF members. Tickets for all festival screenings at the Smith Rafael Film Center can be purchased with cash or credit card. Pre-purchase online w/ service charge at www.sfjff.org.
The 33rd San Francisco Jewish Film Festival —July 25 to August 12, 2013 in San Francisco, Berkeley, Oakland, Piedmont, Palo Alto and San Rafael. Venues: Castro Theatre, Jewish Community Center (JCCSF), Rayko Photo Center in San Francisco; Landmark’s California Theatre in Berkeley; CinéArts in Palo Alto; Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center in San Rafael; Oakland Art Murmur’s New Parkway Theatre, Grand Lake Theatre, and Landmark’s Piedmont Theatre in Oakland. Tickets and complete programming information: www.sfjff.org or (415) 621-0523
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