ARThound

Geneva Anderson digs into art

The 38th San Francisco Jewish Film Festival comes to Marin: 14 films over 3 days (August 3-5, 2018)

A still from Shawn Snyder’s debut film To Dust, SFJFF38’s Centerpiece Narrative film and winner of the Audience Award for Best Narrative at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival.  The dark comedy screens Saturday evening at the Smith Rafael Film Center as part of the SFJFF38’s Marin segment, which runs August 3-5, 2018 and includes 14 of the 18-day-long festival’s most popular films. Image: SFJFF

The 38th installment of SFJFF (San Francisco Jewish Film Festival) come to Marin this Friday through Sunday (August 3-5, 2018) at the Smith Rafael Film Center.  Featuring 14 of the full festival’s most popular films, the Marin segment offers a fascinating global film survey.   This year’s Marin lineup includes a mix of feature-length award winning documentaries covering Jews in Bollywood to UN Secretary General Kurt Waldheim’s tainted 1986 bid for the Austrian presidency as well as compelling high-stakes dramas.  For those north of the Golden Gate, this mini-fest affords a short drive time, hassle free parking, and the Rafael Film Center’s state of the art acoustics.  The only downside to this year’s Marin programming is that there are no special guest appearances.

Presented by the Jewish Film Institute of San Francisco, SFJFF38, is an annual 18-day-long festival (July 19-August 5) that showcases 67 films from 22 countries at venues in San Francisco, Palo Alto, Albany, Oakland and San Rafael.   A number of films have won awards at prestigious film festivals and many of those presented in years past have gone on to be distributed nationally in theaters and on TV.

ARThound recommends:

Friday/August 3, 8:20 p.m.  Wajib (Duty)

A scene from Wajib, Palestinian writer-director Annemarie Jacir’s third feature film. Image: SFJFF

Wajib (Duty) is a low key comedy set and filmed around the Arab community in Nazareth.  Shadi (Saleh Bakri), an architect who lives in Italy, returns to Nazareth for his sister’s wedding. His father, Abu Shadi (renowned actor Mohammed Bakri, the real-life father of Saleh Bakri), welcomes his son’s help in hand-delivering 340 wedding invitations, a Palestinian tradition.  Driving around in Dad’s blue Volvo, the men reconnect as they bring envelopes to friends, cousins, aunts and uncles who ply them with coffee and sweets at each stop.  Winner Special Jury Prize Locarno Film Festival, the film provides a glimpse into the beauty and complexities of life in Middle East, presenting two different generations of Palestinians’ views on the ongoing conflict and Israeli occupation.  (97 minutes, in Arabic with English subtitles)

Saturday/August 4, 11:30 a.m.  Shalom Bollywood: The Untold History of Indian Cinema

A still from Austrian filmmaker Danny Ben-Moshe’s documentary, Shalom Bollywood: The Untold History of Indian Cinema. Image: SFJFF

Eleven years in the making, Austrian filmmaker Danny Ben-Moshe’s delightful Shalom Bollywood: The Untold History of Indian Cinema celebrates the world’s largest film industry with the largely unknown story of the 2,000-year-old Indian Jewish community and its shaping of the Bollywood.  When Indian cinema began 100 years ago, it was taboo for Hindu and Islamic women to perform on screen, so Indian Jewish women took on female lead roles, which they then dominated for decades. Some of the biggest stars of Indian cinema — Sulochana, Miss Rose, Pramila, Nadira, and David — were all Jewish.  Through interviews with descendants, imaginative use of archival footage, animation and a pulsing Bollywood soundtrack, the film focuses on the lives of Indian cinema’s Jewish icons at the heart of Bollywood, from the turn of the 20th century to the present day. The documentary also provides a glimpse into the history of the Bene Israel and Baghdadi Jews, who came to India to escape persecution, and how their small community continues on today. (136 min, English)

Saturday/August 4, 4:05 p.m.  The Waldheim Waltz

Kurt Waldheim in a scene from Austrian filmmaker Ruth Beckermann’s documentary The Waldheim Waltz. Image: SFJFF

In 1986, Austrian filmmaker Ruth Beckermann (Return to Vienna,  SFJFF 1984) took to the  streets of Vienna to film protests over former United Nations Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim’s election bid to become Austria’s president.  Just weeks before the final vote, news broke that Waldheim had been a senior ranking German army officer in the vicinity of the infamous 1942 Nazi deportation of 56,000 Greek Jews from Thessaloniki.  He denied it.  For some Austrians, Waldheim’s firm refusal to admit guilt symbolized their nation’s unspoken complicity in wartime atrocities. For others, supporting Waldheim was an issue of national pride.  Waldheim won the presidency and Beckermann never used the footage.  With the recent rise populist right-wing demagogues such as Austrian chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache, she revisited her material and put together the riveting doc,  The Waldheim Waltz, covering the tense weeks prior to Waldheim’s June 1986 victory.  The material presented is from second-hand newsreel and TV footage, with clips of self-shot video and stills from inside homegrown protest groups.  Beckermann delivers a deadpan voiceover commentary, pinpointing how the Waldheim affair destroyed “Austria’s grand delusion of having been the first victims of the Nazis.”  Winner Best Documentary, Berlin Film festival 2018 and SFJFF38’s Centerpiece Documentary.  North American premiere (93 minutes, German, English, French)

Saturday/August 5, 6:35 p.m.  To Dust

A still from Shawn Snyder’s debut film To Dust, SFJFF38’s Centerpiece Narrative film and winner of the Audience Award for Best Narrative at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival. Image: SFJFF

This absurdist story, To Dust,  SFJFF38’s Centerpiece Narrative film, is so absurd it is captivating.  It involves a grief-stricken Hassidic cantor (Géza Röhrig, Son of Saul, 2015) in Upstate New York whose wife has died of cancer and who becomes obsessed with how her body will decay.  He ends up in the classroom of a local community college science professor (Matthew Broderick) and the two embark on a number of bizarre experiments aimed at gaining insight into bodily decay.  (92 min, English)

Sunday/August 5, 11:45 a.m.  The Interpreter

A still from Slovakian director Martin Sulik’s The Interpreter (Tlmocnik). Image: SFJFF

Czech new wave director Jirí Menzel (Closely Watched Trains, 1968 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film) and Peter Simonischek (the father in Toni Erdmann) star in The Interpreter, Slovakian director Martin Sulik’s bittersweet drama.  Menzel plays Ali Ungar, an interpreter, who is investigating the circumstances of his parents’ death at the hands of a Nazi officer during World War II. With an automatic pistol in his pocket, he heads to Vienna and meets the officer’s paunchy son, Georg Graubner. The happy-go-lucky Graubner, oddly enough to Ungar, also wants to know about his father and the atrocities he is accused of committing against the Jews. “Let’s go,” says Graubner cheerily, offering to pay Ungar for his services as an interpreter.

Details:  SFJFF38 in Marin starts Friday, August 3 with a 1:20 p.m. screening and concludes Sunday, August 5, with an 8:30 pm screening. Tickets: $15 per film or $125 Marin Pass for all 14 films. Advance ticket purchase highly recommended.  Full schedule and tickets at https://jfi.org/sfjff-2018.

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August 1, 2018 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The 35th San Francisco Jewish Film Festival hits the Smith Rafael Film Center this Friday, August 7, through Sunday, August 9—the art line-up is impressive

It’s been 35 years since her death and radical socialite, philanthropist, art collector and personality Peggy Guggenheim is still a subject of keen fascination.  Lisa Immordino Vreeland’s new documentary, “Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict,” screens twice at the 35th San Francisco Jewish Film Festival and, along with her most important and interesting artworks, the film features clips from recently re-discovered audio tapes of Guggenheim in conversation with her authorized biographer, Jacqueline Bograd Weld and film clips with artists Jackson Pollack and Willem DeKooning.  SFMOMA curator Janet Bishop will introduce the film at its Oakland screening on August 7, exploring controversial issues related to Guggenheim’s legacy and it also screens at the Castro Theater on Sunday, July 26.  Photo: SFJFF

It’s been 35 years since her death and radical socialite, philanthropist, art collector and personality Peggy Guggenheim is still a subject of fascination. Lisa Immordino Vreeland’s new documentary, “Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict,” opens the Marin portion of the 35th San Francisco Jewish Film Festival and screens Friday, August 7 at 12:30 PM at the Smith Rafael Film Center. Along with Guggenheim’s most important and interesting artworks, the doc features clips from recently re-discovered audio tapes of Guggenheim in conversation with her authorized biographer, Jacqueline Bograd Weld, and film clips with artists Jackson Pollack and Willem de Kooning. Photo: SFJFF

The San Francisco Jewish Film Festival (SFJFF), the first, the largest, and arguably the best in the proliferation of Jewish film fests, returns to Marin’s Smith Rafael Film Center Friday afternoon with a line-up of 15 new films showcasing the best in independent Jewish film.  All of the films have been selected from the 120+ film line-up that has been playing in San Francisco, Oakland and Palo Alto since July 23.  The Marin segment has been curated with our North of the Golden Gate viewing preferences in mind—great story-telling, thought-provoking content on current issues and art.  Three of the films are art related and with fabulous storylines and seem well worth the drive and time spent indoors.

The festival kicks off Friday at 12:30 with Lisa Vreeland’s acclaimed documentary, Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict (2015), which made its California premiere at the festival.

And on Saturday, at 12:30 PM, Yari Wolinsky and Cary Wolinsky’s Raise the Roof (2014) tells the inspiring story of the complete architectural restoration of a decimated 18th century wooden synagogue in Gwozdziec, Poland by a team of committed volunteer artisans from around the globe who use original methods and tools to restore the churches elaborate exterior and immense and complex interior frescoes.

On Saturday, at 6:20 PM, French director François Margolin’s docu-drama, The Art Dealer (“L’Antiquaire”) (2014), journeys through a family’s secrets and European history.

In French director François Margolin’s “The Art Dealer” (“L'Antiquaire”) (2014), Anna Sigalevitch portrays a Jewish woman who becomes obsessed with the provenance of a painting allegedly created by French artist, Jacques-Laurent Agasse (1767-1849), one of Vernet’s protégés.  Her research takes her back to her own grandfather’s art collection and the German occupation of France.  The story is based on a true story involving the Seligmann family and patriarch art dealer and antiquarian Jacques Seligmann who ran famed galleries in Paris and New York and fostered American interest in European art.  The film is one of several art films screening at the 35th San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, July 23-August 9, 2015.  The festival comes to the Smith Rafael Film Center August 7-9 and “The Art Dealer screens on Saturday, August 8.  Photo: SFJFF

In French director François Margolin’s “The Art Dealer” (“L’Antiquaire”) (2014), Anna Sigalevitch portrays a Jewish woman who becomes obsessed with the provenance of a painting allegedly created by French artist, Jacques-Laurent Agasse (1767-1849), one of Vernet’s protégés. Her research takes her back to her own grandfather’s art collection and the German occupation of France. The story is based on a true story involving the Seligmann family and patriarch art dealer and antiquarian Jacques Seligmann who ran famed galleries in Paris and New York and fostered American interest in European art. The film screens at the 35th San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, at the Smith Rafael Film Center on Saturday, August 8, at 6:20 PM. Photo: SFJFF

On Saturday, at 6:20 PM, French director François Margolin’s docu-drama, The Art Dealer (“L’Antiquaire”) (2014), uses the story of a painting to journey through a famous family’s secrets and European history.

Details:  Screenings at the Smith Rafael Film Center start Friday, August 7, at 2:30 PM and run through Sunday, 10 PM.  Click here for complete program and ticket information.  A Marin Pass, good for all screenings in Marin, is $100 for members Jewish Film Institute / $120 General Public.  The Smith Rafael Film Center is located at 1118 4th Street, San Rafael.

Festival Box Office Hours: The Festival Box Office for the Smith Rafael Film Center screenings will be next to the venue’s regular box office and easy to find.  It will open 1 hour prior to the first SFJFF screening of the day and will remain open throughout the day until 15 minutes after the last screening begins.   Orders set to will call will be available at the venue and on the day of the first screening in the order. If all tickets were purchased on the same order, they will all be available for pick up at the first screening in the order; if tickets were purchased on separate orders, they will be available or pick up at the first screening of each order.  Marin Passes will be available for pick up at the Rafael Film Center on August 9th.

August 6, 2015 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

SFJFF hits the Smith Rafael Film Center for a long weekend, Friday-Sunday—14 films, great stories, from all over the world

Who would have thought that listening to old fishmongers could be so interesting?  The Russ sisters, Hattie, 100, (L) and Anne, 92, (R), daughters of Joel Russ, founder of New York’s Russ & Daughters, have hit their golden years with their sense of humor fully intact and banter delightfully on screen in Julie Cohen’s documentary, “The Sturgeon Queens.”  Cohen’s doc has its world premiere at the 34 San Francisco Jewish Film Festival and screens Sunday at noon at the Smith-Rafael Film Center.  Others docs screening in San Rafael cover topics as diverse as a profile of the creator of the word genocide, a woman who learns her birthfather was black, American-style football in the Holy Land and the story of the son of a Hamas leader who became a spy for Israel’s Shin-bet.   Image: courtesy SFJFF 34

Who would have thought that listening to old fishmongers could be so interesting? The Russ sisters, Hattie, 100, (L) and Anne, 92, (R), daughters of Joel Russ, founder of New York’s Russ & Daughters, have hit their golden years with their sense of humor fully intact and banter delightfully on screen in Julie Cohen’s documentary, “The Sturgeon Queens.” Cohen’s doc has its world premiere at the 34th San Francisco Jewish Film Festival and screens Sunday at noon at the Smith-Rafael Film Center. Others docs screening in San Rafael cover topics as diverse as a profile of the creator of the word genocide, a woman who learns her birthfather was black, American-style football in the Holy Land and the story of the son of a Hamas leader who became a spy for Israel’s Shin-bet. Image: courtesy SFJFF 34

The 34th San Francisco Jewish Film Festival (SFJFF 34) comes to Marin’s Smith Rafael Film Center this Friday-Sunday for a long weekend, presenting 14 of the festival’s top films.  I’ve attended this Marin segment for the past five years and the savvy programmers understand what clicks with our Marin, Sonoma and Napa attendees—intellectually resonant stories, creatively told.  Bonus points added for food, wine, art and causes we can get behind.  Begun in 1980, SFJFF is the oldest and largest Jewish film festival in the world and it traditionally kicks off and runs at San Francisco’s historic Castro Theatre before opening at other Bay Area venues.  This year, SFJFF 34 screened 67 films from 17 countries; 44 of those had some sort of premiere and over 30 visiting filmmakers and international guests attended.  For those of us in Northern California, battling the recently horrendous traffic on 101, the weekend in Marin is the only thing that that makes this beloved festival doable at all.  In our favor, the Smith Rafael Film Center’s offers an intimate setting and unbeatable acoustics and its wise liberal vibe contributes to sharp and sizzling audience exchanges.  All the films in this mini-fest exemplify the humor, warmth, wisdom, angst, and diversity of Jewish experiences around the world and introduce a strong crop of independent filmmakers.  Now, on to ARThound’s recommendations—

Friday, August 8, 8:45 p.m.—24 Days

In “24 Days,” French director Alexandre Arcady re-examines l'affaire du gang des barbares, (the Affair of the Gang of Barbarians)—the 2006 abduction and brutal torture in Paris of the first French Jew, since WWII, to have been viciously attacked for being Jewish.  The suspenseful ransom story is told through the through the voice of a grieving mother, Ruth Halimi, played by Zabou Breitman, who informs the audience that the events they are about to see actually happened.  The film captures the dramatic struggles of the family and French authorities who were at odds with each other over calling this abduction an act of anti-Semitism.  Image: courtesy SFJFF34

In “24 Days,” French director Alexandre Arcady re-examines l’affaire du gang des barbares, (the Affair of the Gang of Barbarians)—the 2006 abduction and brutal torture in Paris of the first French Jew, since WWII, to have been viciously attacked for being Jewish. The suspenseful ransom story is told through the through the voice of a grieving mother, Ruth Halimi, played by Zabou Breitman, who informs the audience that the events they are about to see actually happened. The film captures the dramatic struggles of the family and French authorities who were at odds with each other over calling this abduction an act of anti-Semitism. Image: courtesy SFJFF34

24 Days   U.S. Premiere (France, 2014)  French director and actor, Alexandre Arcady (Day of Atonement (original French title: Le Grand Pardon II) 1992), takes us back to 2006 and astutely delves into l’affaire du gang des barbares (the Affair of the Gang of Barbarians)—the abduction and brutal torture in Paris of the first French Jew, since WWII, to have been viciously attacked for simply being Jewish.  And what a story he weaves, meticulously researched and narrated with a surprising degree of suspense through the voice of a grieving mother.  After Shabbat dinner on January 20, 2006, Ilan Halimi, a 23 year-old telephone vendor of Moroccan Jewish descent, decides to go out, against his mother’s wishes, and celebrate.  On his way out, he kisses his mother, Ruth Halimi (Zabou Breitman), who will never see her son again.  Arcady, himself an Algerian-born Jew who emigrated to France at age 15, adapted the story from the mother’s book and police records. She had a gut feeling that her hapless son was abducted because he was Jewish and the kidnappers assumed that all Jews have money, but the authorities stubbornly refused to acknowledge this as a factor in the abduction.  During their three-week nightmare, relived on film, the mother and her ex-husband, Didier (Pascal Elbé), received over 650 insulting, anxiety-producing phone calls.  It turns out that their son was being held in a public housing block in a Paris suburb by a multi-racial gang of French youngsters and at least 30 people knew about it but did nothing, afraid of what the gang’s leader, Fofana (Tony Harrison), would do to them if they snitched to the authorities.  This is such an important story and so faithfully told that the French Ministry of Education had it shown in French schools.  111 min (Screens at 8:45 p.m.)

6:30 p.m. The Green Prince  (Germany, Israel, UK, 2014)  Nadav Schirman’s espionage documentary opened SFJFF 34 at the Castro to a full house on July 24 and won the Sundance Film Festival’s Audience Award (World Cinema: Documentary).  The film is based Mosab Hassan Yousef’s startling memoir, Son of Hamas, and relives how Yousef, the son of one of the leaders of the Palestinian group Hamas, became a spy for Shin Bet, Israel’s security service, while working for his father.  The film’s title refers to the Israeli security agency’s nickname for Yousef, named for the color of the Hamas flag and his high-ranking affiliation with the Islamist organization.   Given the recent violence in Gaza, which we’re all heartsick over, the film’s happy-ending— Palestinian-Israeli friendship—falls apart.  ARThound recommends seeing it later, when it opens in the Bay Area.  99 min (Screens 6:30 p.m.)

Saturday, August 9, 3 p.m.—Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz’s documentary Little White Lie (USA, 2014) has its world premiere at SFJFF34 and screens Saturday at 3 p.m. at the Smith Rafael Film Center.  Lacey (L) grew up believing she was white and Jewish.  When confronted, her mother, Peggy (R), confessed that she had hidden an extramarital fling with a black man from her and that Lacey was the result.  Image: courtesy SFJFF34

Lacey (L) grew up believing she was white and Jewish. When confronted, her mother, Peggy (R), confessed that she had hidden an extramarital fling with a black man from her and that Lacey was the result. Lacey Schwartz’s documentary, “Little White Lie” (USA, 2014), has its world premiere at SFJFF34 and screens Saturday at 3 p.m. at the Smith Rafael Film Center. Image: courtesy SFJFF34

Little White Lie  World Premiere  (USA, 2014) Harvard Law School graduate Lacey Schwartz turns the camera on herself as she explores how she was raised as white and Jewish and learned as an adult that was her biological father was black.  This relatively short but engrossing doc is about as real as it gets when it comes to confronting one’s long held feelings about identity and race and how those solidify or change with new information.  Schwartz grew up in the mostly white town of Woodstock, New York, and her tawny complexion was always attributed to her father’s deep olive-toned Sicilian Jewish grandfather.  She learned by accident that she was biracial while she was an undergraduate at Georgetown University.  Based on the photo accompanying her entrance application, her contact information was forwarded to its black student association.  When Schwartz confronted her mother, Peggy, she confessed that she had hidden an extramarital fling with a black man from her and that Lacey was the result.   A few years into living with the news, Lacey says this shocking news has not changed the way she sees herself but it has influenced the way she sees the world and, of course, her mother.    65 min (Screens at 3 p.m. with Little Horribles: Mini Bar, a darkly comedic web series that tracks the poor decisions of a self-indulgent lesbian, here trying to resist raiding her the mini bar in her family’s hotel room.)

Saturday, August 9, 4:45 p.m.—God’s Slave

César Troncoso is Ahmed, a Kuwaiti Muslim extremist posing as surgeon and family man in 1994 Buenos Aires in Joel Novoa’s debut feature, “God’s Slave,” (2014), which has its Bay Area premiere at SFJFF 34.   This well-crafted political thriller pits two determined men against one another, crossing paths in the aftermath of the real-life bombings in Buenos Aries in 1994 against the Jewish community.  Image: courtesy SFJFF34

César Troncoso is Ahmed, a Kuwaiti Muslim extremist posing as surgeon and family man in 1994 Buenos Aires in Joel Novoa’s debut feature, “God’s Slave,” (2014), which has its Bay Area premiere at SFJFF 34. This well-crafted political thriller pits two determined men against one another, crossing paths in the aftermath of the real-life bombings in Buenos Aries in 1994 against the Jewish community. Image: courtesy SFJFF34

God’s Slave (Ecsclavo de DiosBay Area Premiere  (Argentina, Uruguay, USA, Venezuela) 90 min)  The  plot sounds familiar—as children both a Muslim and an Islaeli witnessed unspeakable atrocities which have come to define the men they became and the violence they will perpetuate in the name of religion.  Ahmed Al Hassama (Mohammed Al-Khaldi) masquerades as a Venezuelan surgeon waiting until his assignment, a suicide bombing, is revealed to him.  David Goldberg (Vando Villamil) is a cold-blooded Mossad intelligence agent stationed in Buenos Aires, with a relentless aptitude for terrorists’ careers and threats.  Fernando Butazzoni’s screen play, which is set against the 1994 AMIA car-bombing in Buenos Aires, which left 85 people dead, becomes a living breathing portrait of crusaders about to implode in the hands of Venezuelan director Joel Novoa. A master storyteller, Novoa transforms a seemingly open-and-shut political thriller into a moving and nuanced portrayal of commitment and crusade. 90 min (Screens at 4:45 p.m.)

Saturday, August 9, 6:50 p.m.—El Critico

Argentinean film critic turned director Hernan Guerschuny’s comedy, “El Critico,” screens Saturday evening at SFJFF 34 in San Rafael.  Jaded, socially awkward, emotionally repressed, full of himself—film critic Víctor Tellez (Rafael Spregelburd) writes reviews for a daily newspaper in Buenos Aires and identifies so completely with the French New Wave, that the voices he hears inside his head speak French.  Newly divorced, he divides his time between watching films and then discussing them at a local dive with his nerdy friends.  All that changes when he accidentally meets quirky Sofia (Colores Fonzi) who seems to be right out of French comedy (and hence perfect for him).  Soon he’s even sobbing and relating to rom-com’s.  Image: courtesy SFJFF34

Argentinean film critic turned director Hernan Guerschuny’s comedy, “El Critico,” screens Saturday evening at SFJFF 34 in San Rafael. Jaded, socially awkward, emotionally repressed, full of himself—film critic Víctor Tellez (Rafael Spregelburd) writes reviews for a daily newspaper in Buenos Aires and identifies so completely with the French New Wave, that the voices he hears inside his head speak French. Newly divorced, he divides his time between watching films and then discussing them at a local dive with his nerdy friends. All that changes when he accidentally meets quirky Sofia (Colores Fonzi) who seems to be right out of French comedy (and hence perfect for him). Soon he’s even sobbing and relating to rom-com’s. Image: courtesy SFJFF34

Sunday, August 10, noon—The Sturgeon Queens

Who would have thought that listening to old fishmongers could be so interesting?  Filmmaker Julie Cohen has made "The Sturgeon Queens," a history of the legendary Russ & Daughters appetizing store on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.  Pescatarian pioneer Joel Russ (center) surrounded by daughters (from Left) Hattie, Ida and Anne.  Image: SFJFF34

Who would have thought that listening to old fishmongers could be so interesting? Filmmaker Julie Cohen has made “The Sturgeon Queens,” a history of the legendary Russ & Daughters appetizing store on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Pescatarian pioneer Joel Russ (center) surrounded by daughters (from Left) Hattie, Ida and Anne. Image: SFJFF34

 

The Sturgeon Queens  Bay Area Premiere  (USA, 2013)   For New Yorkers noshing on smoked fish and fine appetizers wouldn’t be the same without the venerable Russ & Daughters which celebrates its centennial this year.  .  Julie Cohen, NY Emmy winner and founder of BetterThanFiction Productions, tells the story —100 years, 4 generations, 1.8 million pounds of pickled herring—delightfully.  It’s really a love story of family bonding and fish.  And of a noun called “appetizing”—a Jewish food tradition that is most typical among American (especially New York) Jews and has its origins in the Eastern European Jewish tradition of starting meals with cold appetizers, known in Yiddish as “forshpayz”….modern day translation “the foods one eats with bagels.”  One hundred years ago, workaholic founding father Joel Russ started hawking fine herring on the streets of New York with a push-cart and finally scrimped enough to get his own store on the lower East Side.  This is literally the house that herring built.  His three daughters, the Sturgeon Queens—Anne, Hattie and Ida—helped out their dad and worked behind the counter for decades, pulling their husbands and relatives right along.  In the film we hear from two of the sisters, now grandmas—100-year-old Hattie Russ Gold and 92-year-old Anne Russ Federman who still banter delightfully while reflecting on lives richly lived and customers who passed through their doors.  Their grandchildren, who run the store today,  Niki Russ Federman and Josh Russ Tupper, talk about carrying on the Russ tradition and bringing this institution into the age of computers and author Mark Russ Federman (Russ & Daughters, Reflections and Recipes from the House that Herring Built, 2013) adds more mouthwatering detail.  Well-known enthusiasts of the store add spice—Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, actress Maggie Gyllenhaal, chef Mario Batali, New Yorker writer Calvin Trillin, and 60 Minutes correspondent Morley Safer.  54 min (Screens at noon) Will screen on various PBS stations later this year.

Sunday, August 10, 1:45 p.m.—Touchdown Israel

Almost four years ago, San Francisco-based documentary filmmaker, Paul Hirschberger, started learning all he could about the North American-style of tackle football that is being played in Israel.  “Touchdown Israel” (2014) has its world premiere at SFJFF 34 and explores how the growing sport is bridging cultural gaps in Israel.  Hirschberger will attend Sunday’s screening at the Smith Rafael Film Center.  Image: SFJFF34

Almost four years ago, San Francisco-based documentary filmmaker, Paul Hirschberger, started learning all he could about the North American-style of tackle football that is being played in Israel. “Touchdown Israel” (2014) has its world premiere at SFJFF 34 and explores how the growing sport is bridging cultural gaps in Israel. Hirschberger will attend Sunday’s screening at the Smith Rafael Film Center. Image: SFJFF34

Touchdown Israel  World Premiere, filmmaker Paul Hirschberger in attendance with post-screening Q&A   (USA, Israel, 2014)   Israel is the last place you would expect the corn-fed, Friday Night Lights tradition of American football to catch on.  But don’t tell that to the passionate players and coaches in the 11-team Israel Football League, who play for nothing but pride and have had to endure years of matches played on woefully short soccer fields, under bad lighting, with no locker rooms, in front of an indifferent public.  Touchdown Israel is a surprising look at how the gridiron sport has found an unlikely toehold in the Holy Land.  Initially imported in the 1990s by American-born Israelis who deeply missed the scrimmages of their youth, American football in Israel has had to counter not only the vastly more popular appeal of soccer and basketball, but legions of Jewish mothers worried about their grown sons’ injuries. As league macher Steve Leibowitz claims, “Jewish mothers somehow don’t get it, it’s nice to be bruised.” But the documentary has serious points to make as well, as it examines the Jewish-Arab camaraderie (and occasional tensions) within the multiethnic lineup of the Tel Aviv–Jaffa Sabres, as well as the controversial “bad boy” profile of the Judean Rebels, a team composed largely of West Bank settlers. Some rivalries go deeper than sports. (Synopsis by Peter Stein) 85 min (Screens at 1:45 p.m.)

Sunday, August 10, 4:15 p.m.—Watchers of the Sky

Watchers of the Sky  CA Premiere  The term “genocide” was created by the Polish Jewish lawyer, Raphael Lemkin, and first used in his 1944 book, Axis Rule in Occupied Europe.  MacArthur Award-winning documentarian, Edit Belzberg, explores Lemkin’s legacy in creating an international framework for prosecuting acts aimed at the intentional destruction of a people.  At Sundance, this smart doc picked up an Editing Award and Special Jury Award for Use of Animation US Documentary.  Inspired by Samantha Power’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide (2013), Belzberg takes you on a very disturbing experiential journey over the past century of genocide intercutting Lemkin’s story with interviews from Nuremberg prosecutor Ben Ferencz; journalist-turned-UN ambassador Samantha Power, who covered Bosnia’s ethnic cleansing;  Luis Moreno Ocampo, prosecutor for the International Criminal Court, who is building the case against Sudanese president Omar Al-Bashir over the deaths in Darfur; and Emmanuel Uwurukundo, a survivor of the Rwandan genocide now aiding Darfur refugees in Chad.  Belberg evokes Lemkin’s spirit through quotes from his memoirs and wonderful animation.  This is a must-see primer in human rights awareness and action. Watchers of the Sky will open theatrically in the US in October 2014.  114 min (Screens 4:45 p.m.)

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 Friday, August 8, 2014, and runs through Sunday, August 10, 2014.  Tickets: $14; $13 seniors and students.  Advance purchase is recommended—click on film links below or visit www.sfjff.org or call 415.621.0523. (Rafael passes, CFI Fast Passes or members’ discounts are not valid for these screenings.) The Rafael box office will not sell advance tickets; however, it will sell tickets remaining for various screenings on the day of their screening.

 

Full Schedule, SFJFF 34 at Smith Rafael Film Center, Friday (Aug 8)–Sunday (Aug 10)

Friday

2:10 p.m. Mamele  (dir. Joseph Green, Konrad Tom, USA, 1938, 97 min)

4:20 p.m.  Swim Little Fish Swim  (dir. Ruben Amar, USA, France, 2013, 96 min)

6:30 p.m.  The Green Prince West Coast Premiere (dir. Nadav Schirman, Germany, Israel, UK, 2014, 99 min,

8:45 p.m.  24 Days  U.S. Premiere (dir. Alexandre Arcady, France, 2014, 111 min)

 

Saturday

1 p.m. My Own Man CA Premiere (dir. David Sampliner, USA, 2014, 83 min)

3 p.m. Little White Lie World Premiere (dir. Lacey Schwartz, USA, 2014, 65 min)

4:45 p.m. God’s Slave (Ecsclavo de Dios) Bay Area Premiere (dir. Joel Novoa, Argentina, Uruguay, USA, Venezuela, 90 min)

6:50 p.m. El Critico CA Premiere (dir. Hernán Guerschuny, Argentina, 2013, 90 min)

8:55 p.m. Comedy Warriors Northern CA Premiere John Wagner (USA, 2014) 75 min

Sunday

12 noon The Sturgeon Queens Bay Area Premiere (dir. Julie Cohen, USA, 2013, 54 min)

1:45 p.m. Touchdown Israel World Premiere (dir. Paul Hirschberger, USA, Israel, 2014, 85 min)

4:15 p.m. Watchers of the Sky CA Premiere (dir. Edit Belzberg, USA, 2013, 114 min)

6:45 p.m. Snails in the Rain CA Premiere (dir. Yariv Mozer, Israel, 2013, 82 min)

8:40 p.m. A Place in Heaven CA Premiere (dir. Yossi Madmoni, Israel, 2013, 117 min)

 

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