Geneva Anderson digs into art

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