ARThound

Geneva Anderson digs into art

The SF Jewish Film Festival moves to the Smith Rafael Film Center on Friday—beautiful, small, dramatic stories

Internationally acclaimed writer-director, and two-time Israeli Ophir Award winner  Dani Menkin will be in attendance at SFJFF39 in San Rafael Sunday afternoon for an audience Q & A for his new documentary, Picture of His Life (2019), which he co-directed with Yonatan Nir.  The film follows Amos Nachoum, the world-renowned underwater still photographer as attempts to fulfill the most challenging shoot of his 35-year-long career—to photograph a polar bear underwater, while swimming alongside it.  Throughout his career, Nachoum has taken huge risks to get the images that no one else in the world has been able to capture.  The creation of this exciting and gorgeously shot documentary required a skill set that carries its own thrilling story.  Image: courtesy PRX, San Francisco

The 39th San Francisco Jewish Film Festival (SFJFF) comes to the Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center Friday through Sunday (Aug 2-4) with 15 of its most popular films from its 10-day run at the Castro Theater in July.  With just four of the 15 films from the US, this mini-fest  features a wide slate of stories from Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Israel, Mexico, Poland, Russia, and the UK.   What’s Jewish about the programming can be quite nuanced: the festival has been designed to appeal to a wide range of interests and diverse identities.

The mini-fest kicks off Friday afternoon with two films that have screened in the Bay Area before but are well worth seeing if you missed them: James Freedman’s documentary, Carl Laemmle (2018), which tells the extraordinary story of the German-Jewish immigrant who practically invented the movie business by starting Universal Pictures in 1912 and then went to rescue over 300 Jewish refugee families from the Holocaust and Alamork Davidian’s Fig Tree (2018), a sensitive first feature told through the eyes of a 16-year-old Ethiopian Jewish teenager in the throws of the Ethiopia’s 1989 Civil War who is offered safe immigration to Israel but becomes frantic with worry over those she will leave behind.

Below are my recommendations for films that have something special:

Dolce Fine Giornata (Friday, 6:20 pm)

Kasia Smutniak, Antonio Catania and Krystyna Janda in a still from Jacek Borcuch’s Dolce Fine Giornata (2019).  Image: courtesy SFJFF

This Polish film about expats living in Italy hits several of our hot-topic buttons—immigration, terrorism, nationalism—and it’s set in gorgeous Tuscany.  It offers a complex and very stimulating moral drama that features Polish film star Krystyna Janda in a role that earned her a Special Jury Award for Acting at Sundance.  She plays Maria Linda, a Polish Nobel Laureate poet who is living la dolce vita in Tuscany with her Italian husband, Antonio, and her single daughter and two grand-kids.  She is also involved with Nazeer, a young Egyptian émigré who runs a taverna in town.  Everything comes crashing down when Maria accepts an award and gives a speech with some ill-thought out inflammatory words that seem to suggest she’s endorsing a recent terrorist act as a form of artistic expression.  As her words go viral, Maria refuses to fully explain herself and the backlash escalates, implicating those she cares about most. (Poland, 2019, 96 min, in Italian w/ English subtitles) Screens: Friday, 6:20 pm

Standing Up, Falling Down (Saturday, 4:05 pm)

Ben Schwartz and Billy Crystal in a still from Matt Ratner’s feature debut Standing Up, Falling Down (2019), which has is West Coast debut at SFJFF 39. Image: courtesy SFJFF

When stand-up comedian Scott (Ben Schwartz) strikes out in the Los Angeles comedy scene, the affable millennial is forced to return with his tail between his legs to his parents’ home on Long Island.  Everyone in his circle has moved on to adult life and he keeps running into Becky, the girlfriend he ditched when he left for the West Coast who is now married.  Confronted with with the prospect of finding a real job, aimless Scott hits the local bars and makes a connection with Marty (Billy Crystal) a dermatologist and alcoholic who is in a rut of his own making.  The two manage to forge a supportive friendship that provides the platform for moments of brilliant interaction between the two and for Crystal’s magnetic genius to shine. (USA, 2019, 91minutes, English)

Picture of His Life (Sunday 4:15pm)

Underwater photographer Amos Nachoum in a still from Picture of His Life (2019). Image: courtesy SFJFF

Everyone processes their inner demons in different ways.  The world’s most renowned underwater photographer, Amos Nachoum, swims with crocodiles, leopard seals, killer whales, anacondas and great whites to snap some of the most breathtaking close-up photos of these creatures in existence.  With a thrilling documentary that was 10 years in the making,  Israeli documentarians Yonatan Nir and Dani Menkin, follow Nachoum, 65, on a treacherous expedition to Baker Lake in the Canadian Arctic where, working with local Inuits, he attempts to fulfill his final photographic dream—to photograph a polar bear underwater, while swimming alongside it.   As the journey unfolds, so does Nachoum’s intimate and painful story of dedication, sacrifice and personal redemption.  In addition to the breathtaking journey North, testimonies of famous scuba divers and wildlife experts are set against iconic images of sea creatures that Amos created throughout his career.  Director Dani Menkin in person for a Q&A. (Israel, 2019, 75 minutes, in Hebrew w/ English subtitles)

Leona (Sunday, 8:35 pm)

Naian González Norvind and Christian Vazquez in a scene from Isaac Cherem’s Leona (2018).  Photo: courtesy SFJFF

Spanish director Isaac Cherem’s debut feature Leona has its Northern CA premiere at SFJFF.  Naian González Norvind co-wrote the film and picked up the Best Actress award at the Morelia International Film festival for her performance as Ariela, a 25 year-old Syrian Jewish street artist from Mexico City who is striving to lead the expressive and free-spirited life of an artist in a conservative and somewhat closed community.  Facing pressure to find a suitable life partner, sparks fly when she meets Ivan, a non-Jewish writer.  The decision to follow her heart will come with a price and Ariela is confronted throughout with the demands of growing up and asserting her own identity.  Norvind delivers a triumphant performance that is in perfect sync with the film’s title “Leona,” the Spanish word for lioness.  (Mexico, 2018, 94 minutes, Spanish w/ English subtitles)

Details:  The 39th San Francisco Jewish Film Festival’s Marin segment is Friday, August 2- Sunday, August 4, 2019. 14 films, each screening once, with 4 to 5 screenings daily.  Tickets: $15 (General Admission), $14 (students and seniors with ID), $12 JFI (Jewish Film Institute) members (JFI membership info here.) Purchase tickets in advance at jfi.org/sfjff-2019 or day of the show at the Smith Rafael.

Marin Passes: Marin Passes ($100 JFI members / $125 general public) available online here.

Advertisements

July 30, 2019 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment