Geneva Anderson digs into art

Dog Lovers! Tonight is your night…. Julian Roman Pölsler’s “The Wall” (“Die Wand”) screens at 8:45 at the Smith Rafael…part of a week of screenings of foreign Oscar nominees

As the only human survivor after an unexplained global tragedy, German actress Marina Gedeck bonds tightly with her loyal dog in Julian Roman Pölsler’s “The Wall” a film that is true to Marlen Haushofer’s exceptional novel . Image: courtesy of Music Box Films

As the only human survivor after an unexplained global tragedy, German actress Martina Gedeck bonds tightly with her loyal dog in Julian Roman Pölsler’s “The Wall” a film that is true to Marlen Haushofer’s exceptional novel . Image: courtesy of Music Box Films

I wouldn’t be ARThound if I didn’t do a special shout-out for Lynx, the amazing hound that co-stars in  The Wall (Die Wand, 2012) which screens tonight (Wed) at 8:45 PM at the Smith Rafael (Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center)  as part of their week of exceptional screenings of foreign Oscar nominations from around the world…. I can’t say it enough… consistently awesome programming!

The Wall (Die Wand):  Austrian director Julian Roman Pölsler’s film is based on Marlen Haushofer’s 1962 dystopian hit novel of the same name (just re-printed in English). The film stars German actress Martina Gedeck from the brilliant 2006 Stassi thriller The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen) and tells the story of a completely ordinary middle-aged woman (Gedeck) who is vacationing with friends in a remote mountain hunting lodge.  Her friends go out to a pub and she stays back with the dog and when they don’t come back, she makes a very creepy discovery.  She is imprisoned on the mountainside by an invisible wall, behind which there seems to be no life.  She appears to be the sole remaining human on earth, along with the dog (a red hound that will steal your heart),a cow, a cat, and a kitten, with which she forms a tight-knit family.

The film rests entirely on Gedeck’s shoulders and she is riveting, delivering a very credible performance that will leave you shivering and running home to snuggle with your dog.  The odd beauty of this film is that this last survivor scenario may be your own romanticized idea of heaven, or hell (Who hasn’t said  “Fuck the world! I’m sick of people…give me just my dog!), but watching Gedeck use her time laboring hard, protecting her pack, and introspectively processing her present life, leads us to right into her moments of intensely felt angst, terror, joy and sorrow. (Screens Wednesday, January 15, 2014 at 8:45 PM, Smith Rafael)

I first reviewed The Wall when it screened at last year’s Berlin & Beyond Film Festival—the very best new films by German, Austrian and Swiss directors—a noteworthy jewel in the huge array of festivals.  This year, the 18th annual Berlin & Beyond Film Festival, kicks off this evening at San Francisco’s historic Castro Theatre with Georg Maas’ Two Lives (Zwei Leben, 2012), Germany’s official entry, short-listed for the best foreign language Oscar at the 2014 Academy Awards.  Click here to read ARThound’s coverage of this year’s Berlin & Beyond.)  Two Lives also screens tomorrow (Thursday) at 6:30 PM at the Smith Rafael and filmmaker Maas will be in attendance for what will be a riveting Q&A.  So, in San Rafael, you’ve got the opportunity to see two great German-language films back-to-back as part of their foreign Oscar nominee programming and, in San Francisco, Berlin & Beyond offers 30 feature length German-language films and 7 shorts over the next week (including six North American premieres and two US premieres).

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January 15, 2014 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

San Francisco’s Jewish Film Festival starts Thursday, July 19, with a broad line-up and a weekend of programming in Marin

Roberta Grossman’s “Hava Nagila (the Movie)” has its world preimere on the opening night of the 32nd San Francisco Jewish Film Festival. Image: courtesy SFJFF

The 32nd San Francisco Jewish Film Festival opens Thursday evening at San Francisco’s historic Castro Theatre with the world premiere of Roberta Grossman’s Hava Nagila (the Movie),  a riveting history of “Hava Nagila,” the foot-tapping song that started with a wordless prayer and may be one of the world’s best known pieces of music.  Afterwards, the festivities continue with an Opening Night Bash at the Swedish American Hall hosted by some of the Bay Area’s best purveyors of food and drink.

The festival, a tradition enjoyed by film aficionados far and wide, runs July 19 to August 6, 2012, and includes 63 films from 17 countries, including a wide spectrum of stimulating discussions, international guests and wonderful parties.   There are seven Bay Area venues, one of which is the Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center in San Rafael.  Programming there includes 13 films and begins on the last weekend of the festival—Friday, August 4 through Sunday, August 6, 2012.  Stay tuned to ARThound for detailed coverage of the Marin segment.  For general festival programming and to purchase tickets, visit

The 32nd San Francisco Jewish Film Festival: July 19 to August 6, 2012. Venues: Castro Theatre and Jewish Community Center in San Francisco; Roda Theatre at Berkeley Repertory Theatre in Berkeley; CinéArts in Palo Alto; Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center in San Rafael; Art Murmur and the Piedmont Theatre in Oakland. (415) 621-0523.

July 18, 2012 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The 31st San Francisco Jewish Film Festival brings its best films to San Rafael’s Rafael Film Center August 6-8, 2011

Feliks Falk’s “Joanna” opens the Marin programming for the 31st San Francisco Jewish Festival. Urszula Grabowska (left) is Joanna, a Polish woman who finds seven-year-old Rose (Sara Knothe ) sleeping in the pews of a church and is faced with a split-second decision—to take the child with her or leave her for the Nazis. Image courtesy SFJF.

For those of us who live in the North Bay, the travel time and various costs associated with going to San Francisco for even a special film can put a damper on the most enthusiastic of fans.  Next Saturday, August 6, 2011, through Monday, August 8, 2011,  the 31st San Francisco Jewish Film Festival will cross the bridge and splash onto the screen of Marin’s Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center offering 16 of its best films and shorts.  This year’s festival opened in San Francisco on July 21 and this is its 15th year of presentations in Marin.  The first and still the largest of its kind, the festival showcases some of the best and brightest cinematic gems—offering a full complement of films, celebrations, panel discussions and international guests—that highlight various aspects of Jewish culture.

Opening Night, August 6, kicks off with Joanna, a riveting drama

On Saturday August 6—the opening evening—Marin audiences will be treated to film and theater director Feliks Falk’s Joanna [Poland, 2011, 105 min], which proposes the altruistic dilemma—what would you risk to save another during World War II in Nazi-occupied Poland?   Joanna (Urszula Grabowska) is a gentile woman who finds 8-year-old Rose, a Jewish girl abandoned in a church, and faces this dilemma knowing that any choice she makes will be life-changing.  They embark on a relationship that helps to heal their respective losses, but Joanna faces difficult decisions if Rose is to survive.  Following Joanna that evening is Ben Berkowitz’s Polish Bar [US, 2010, 96 min], which centers on ambitious Reuben Horowitz (Boardwalk Empire’s Vincent Piazza) who works in his Uncle Sol’s (Judd Hirsch) Chicago jewelry store but dreams of DJing at a top local club.  Reaching for his dream, Reuben rolls the dice with his uncle Sol’s merchandise on a big drug score in this gritty, raucous drama suffused with an urban Jewish hip-hop vibe. Berkowitz will appear in person at the San Rafael screening.

Monday night, the Festival comes to a close with Avi Nesher’s The Matchmaker [Israel, 2010, 112 min], an affectionate, bittersweet feature set in 1960s Haifa, in which protagonist Arik’s eye-opening summer vacation includes the sexy Iraqi-Jewish-American niece of his best friend, a seedy downtown movie theater run by a group of Jewish dwarfs who met at Auschwitz, and Yankele Bride—matchmaker, shady businessman and Holocaust survivor.

Diverse stories with international flavors

This year’s program is especially strong on documentaries.  It begins with Marin’s first screening next Saturday:  Incessant Visions—Letters from an Architect [Israel, 2011, 70 min].  This is Duki Dror’s (My Fantastia, The Journey of Vaan Nguyen, Mr. Cortisone, Happy Days) compelling meditation on the life and career of the architect Eric Mendelsohn.  Of local interest, Mendelsohn’s granddaughter, Daria Joseph, is a Marin resident.

Next Year in Bombay [France, India, 2010, 55 min], a co-production by Jonas Parientè and Mathias Mangin, profiles the surprising diversity of India’s Jewish communities.  The film focuses on a young couple’s struggle with their desire to see Judaism thrive in India and their commitment to providing their children with a Jewish education which is only possible if they move to Israel.

From France, Rose Bosch’s The Roundup [France, 2009, 120 min] is the harrowing investigative account of the Vel d’Hiv roundup of Paris’ Jews in 1942 with a stand-out performance by French actor Jean Reno (The Professional).  Standing Silent [US, 2010, 82 min] is Scott Rosenfelt’s profile of journalist Phil Jacobs, whose crusade to unmask sexual predators within the Jewish community exposes him to ostracism for exposing the community to external scrutiny.  Liz Garbus (Shouting Fire) brings a portrait of the complicated life of the tormented chess genius in Bobby Fischer Against the World [US, 2010, 92 min].

Also screening at the Rafael Film Center and part of the San Francisco portion of SFJFF festival programming is Crime After Crime [US, 2011, 95 min], Yoav Potash’s unforgettable chronicle of a woman’s fight against horrible injustice.  Winner of both Audience Choice and Golden Gate awards at the San Francisco International Film Festival, this compelling documentary tells the story of the legal battle to free Debbie Peagler, an incarcerated survivor of domestic violence.  Over 26 years in prison could not crush the spirit of this determined African-American woman, despite the wrongs she suffered, first at the hands of a duplicitous boyfriend who beat her and forced her into prostitution, and later by prosecutors who used the threat of the death penalty to corner her into a life behind bars for her connection to the murder of her abuser.  Her story takes an unexpected turn when her cause is taken up by two volunteer attorneys: Joshua Safran, who witnessed spousal abuse as a child and whose identity as an Orthodox Jew fuels his work on the case, and Nadia Costa, a former social worker for Children’s Protective Services in Los Angeles.  Tickets for this exceptional film, which opens Friday,  August 5, 2011 at the Rafael Film Center with multiple screenings, can be purchased directly from the Rafael Film Center, as it is not officially part of the Marin festival offerings.

On the narrative side, thought-provoking stories abound from Israel, Poland and Germany, as well as America.  Aside from the opening and closing night offerings of Joanna, Polish Bar and The Matchmaker, from Israel comes Mabul (The Flood) [Israel, Canada, France, Germany, 2011, 97 min], directed by Guy Nattiv, which paints the unstable members of the Rosko family, each hiding dark secrets from the others.  Affairs, adolescence, drugs and unemployment plague the Roskos, and when autistic son Tomer suddenly rejoins the family, the building pressure explodes. The sharp performances of the cast earned the film 6 Ofir nominations, the Israeli equivalent of the Oscars.

Nir Bergman’s Intimate Grammar [Israel, 2010, 110 min] is a beautiful narrative based on a 1991 David Grossman novel and is movingly told from the point of view of the teenage son of a dysfunctional family in 1960’s Jerusalem. From Poland, Jan Kidawa-Blonski’s Little Rose [Poland, 2010, 118 min] is a Cold War espionage thriller that opens as news of the Six Day War arrives.  In this paranoid atmosphere, a blond bombshell (Magdalena Boczarska) is hired by the secret police to spy on a renowned intellectual (Andrzej Seweryn) suspected of subversive views.  This twisted love story becomes entangled with the intrigues of the State security apparatus.

In an Austrian/German/Hungarian co-production, Elizabeth Scharang’s debut feature In Another Lifetime [Austria, Germany, Hungary, 2010, 94 min] (see ARThound’s full review) is a haunting and bittersweet tale of Hungarian Jews on a forced march towards death who stage a Strauss operetta in an Austrian village in a vain hope to survive their fate.

About the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival

The San Francisco Jewish Film Festival (SFJFF), turned 31 this year and is the world’s oldest and largest Jewish film festival.  There are 58 films in all─38 full-length  films in all—38 full-length films (23 documentaries and 15 narratives) and 19 shorts (10 documentaries, 1 narrative and 8 animations) from 16 countries.  There are many free events too.  Attracting more than 33,000 filmgoers annually, SFJFF is world-renowned for the diversity and breadth of its audiences and films.  SFJFF’s mission is to promote awareness and appreciation of the diversity of the Jewish people, provide a dynamic and inclusive forum for exploration of and dialogue about the Jewish experience, and encourage independent filmmakers working with Jewish themes.

The SFJFF Jewish Film Forum

Members of SFJFF’s Jewish Film Forum receive exclusive discounts on all festival tickets, passes and 10-Flix vouchers. The Jewish Film Forum is SFJFF’s year-round affiliation program bringing film lovers together to enjoy and support the mission and programs of SFJFF. Memberships, which begin at $50, may be purchased online or by phone when ordering tickets.

Details:  The Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center is located at 1118 Fourth Street in San Rafael.  Metered parking is available on the street or chose from several lots close by.  The San Rafael portion of the festival starts next Saturday, August 6, 2011 and runs through Monday, August 8, 2011. 

Tickets are $12.00 for the general public and can be purchased online or by phone (M-F 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.) at 415.621.0523.  Tickets are also available for same day purchase at individual screening venues but screenings may sell out in advance  “Discount 10-Flix Voucher Packs” are $100 for the general public. Group rates and special prices for students and seniors are available.

July 31, 2011 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment