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“Hey Hey, It’s Esther Blueberger,” a gawky teen who break outs of her life to fit in… screens this weeks at the Sonoma County Jewish Film Festival

Attending a posh private girl’s school in Australia, gawky Esther Blueberger (Danielle Catanzariti) just doesn’t fit in and would rather be anyone than who she is. “Hey Hey It’s Esther Blueberger” screens Tuesday, November 30th and Wednesday, December 1, 2010, at the Sonoma County Jewish Film Festival. Image: Sonoma County Jewish Film Festival.

“Hey Hey, It’s Esther Blueberger,” which screens this Tuesday and Wednesday at the 15th annual Sonoma County Jewish Film Festival,  is a coming of age teen dramedy worth seeing whether you’re Jewish or not.  It captures the confusion of growing up from a young girl’s perspective and delivers an important message about feeling weird—it’s perfectly normal!   It does require the ability to revisit that awkward and idiotic world of middle school…which seems to have gotten even more tribal since I was there in the 1970’s.   The film stars Australian newcomer Danielle Catanzariti in her debut role as 13 year-old Esther Blueberger–a dark-haired, pig-tailed outcast with braces who’s invisible and miserable amongst the pink-ribboned conformists at her private girl’s school in Australia.  Esther has the typical anxieties that plague most teens who desperately want to fit in with the cool kids.  In addition,  she appears to be the only Jewish girl in her school.  

Life at home is no better.  Her straight-laced and impeccably dressed mother (Essie Davis) busies herself in their huge home and keeps the family humming along but doesn’t seem to have any real awareness of their emotional needs.  Esther’s dad (Russell Dykstra) shows up admirably when called upon, delivering a touching bat mitzvah speech for her and her brother, but seems oblivious to the fine details of his family life.   Esther has a tight connection with her twin brother Jacob (Christian Byers) and they often hang out together in each other’s rooms but even that seems to be coming apart now that their teen hormones are kicking in.

When Esther ditches her bat mitzvah party and meets free-spirited Sunni (Keisha Castle-Hughes), her world starts to brighten.  Sunni is a smart bad girl—effortlessly popular–she smokes, dresses down, and attends public school.   Sunni’s mother Mary (Toni Collette) is very hip, eats peanut butter right from the jar, and seems the fascinating antithesis of Esther’s mom.  

Keisha Castle-Hughes shines as Sunni, a smart “bad-girl” girl who befriends nerdy Esther and whose mom is played by Toni Collette. “Hey Hey It’s Esther Blueberger” screens Tuesday, November 30th and Wednesday, December 1, at the Sonoma County Jewish Film Festival. Image: Sonoma County Jewish Film Festival

Soon–and here is where we have to suspend our disbelief–Esther has ditched her private school and is attending Sunni’s public school in another part of town and pretending to be a Swedish exchange student.  She finds acceptance in Sunni’s crowd and things are rosy for a while.  The problem is that, deep inside, Esther is still Esther.  She is popular but she’s living a lie.  Tension mounts as she tries to conceal her activities from her family and former classmates at the private school.  This is where the film stumbles as it takes a sharp turn into some emotionally heavy content that seems disconnected from its light-hearted comedic start. 

Predictably, once Esther’s tried smoking, wearing different clothes, has been kissed, and has even bullied a few girls; she’s still left with herself and the question of who she really is.   When she decides to return to her old private school and is suddenly deemed one of the “cool” girls, she begins to see how superficial cliques and the people in them really are.   

Despite the fact that scriptwriter/director Cathy Randall has Esther test several clichéd identities—the popular girls, the nerds, the tough girls, and the properly brought up bah mitzvahed Jewish girls–at the end of the film, we still don’t have any real impression about what Esther has learned and how she will interpret her Jewish identity, especially in an environment where she appears to be the only Jewish student.  This falls on Cathy Randall.  Fortunately, newbie Danielle Catanzariti brings enough to the table in this amazing debut performance that the film comes off as a moving exploration of teen identity–funny, beautiful and sad, all at once. 

Esther’s twin brother Jacob is brilliantly cast in Christian Byers whose innocent quirkiness manifests itself in his penchant for mathematically interpreting all sorts of data.  When he outright lies about a fight he was in and tells his gullible parents that his schoolmates are all anti-Semitic, you begin to see the little weasel at his best.   Castle-Hughes who plays Sunni seems underutilized–her personal presence is just so enormous in this role that it leaves you hungering for more.  Now 20, she lit up the screen in her 2004 performance of “Whale Rider” for which she, at age 13, became the youngest best actress nominee in Oscar history.  And Toni Collette, while she makes a brief appearance, is the most endearing character in the film.   This is a film that will take you way back and make you glad that you survived.   Hey Hey Esther, hang tight…it’s almost over!!!

run time: 103 minutes, Australia (2008)

Details:  Screens this Tuesday, November 30, 7:15 PM, Wednesday, December 1, at 1:00 PM and 7:15 PM (waitlist only for the 7:15 show) at the 15th annual Sonoma County Jewish Film Festival at the Sixth Street Playhouse, 52 West 6th Street, Santa Rosa.  Tickets are $10 matinee and $12 evening and are available online.  Pre-purchase tickets online, or phone (707) 528-4222.

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November 28, 2010 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sonoma County Jewish Film Festival resumes Tuesday with additional screenings and a venue consolidation–all shows now at Sixth Street Playhouse, Santa Rosa

The Argentinian film “The Camera Obscura” (2008), directed by María Victoria Menis, is set in the late 1800's in an agrarian Jewish colony in the scenic Entre Rios Province, Argentina. Nominated for 8 Argentinean Film Critics Association Awards. Image courtesy: SCJFF

After a three-week break, the 15th annual Sonoma County Jewish Film Festival resumes its 2010 season this Tuesday with a venue consolidation and several schedule changes,  including a newly added  7:15 pm screening this Tuesday of “Camera Obscura” at the Sixth Street Playhouse in Santa Rosa.  All Petaluma shows have been cancelled due to projection issues at the Boulevard Cinemas and Petaluma tickets will be honored in Santa Rosa.  All shows for the remainder of the 2010 season will be at the Sixth Street Playhouse, 52 West 6th Street, Santa Rosa.   The festival is sponsored by the Jewish Community Center of Sonoma County and is the main platform in Sonoma County for new independent and foreign films that otherwise get little exposure outside of the film festival circuit.  

Still left in the series—

Camera Obscura: Growing up in late 19th century Buenos Aries, Gertrud  is a disappointment to her mother from the moment of her birth. As the invisible ugly duckling, she is compelled to create beauty in everything she does, while remaining unseen. Married off to an older Jewish rancher, her husband hires an itinerant photographer for a family portrait. Through the photographer’s eyes, Gertrudis becomes visible for the first time. This luminous, artistic film uses archival and surrealistic photographs, black and white film, and hand drawn animation.  Drama, Argentina, 86 minutes, Spanish and Yiddish, English subtitles.  Tuesday, November 16, 7:15 pm, Wednesday, November 17, 1:00 p.m. & 7:15 p.m. (7:15 show sold out- waitlist)

 Yoo-Hoo Mrs. Goldberg:  For two and a half decades, Gertrude Berg, the creator of the wildly popular radio and TV show, “The Goldbergs” was the most famous woman in America, and the winner of the first ever Emmy Award for Lead Actress in a Comedy Series. The Oprah of her day, Gertrude Berg’s blend of comedy and social commentary, with Jewish characters at the center, endeared her to audiences and made her an American cultural icon. This highly entertaining feature length documentary blends interviews with Ed Asner, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Norman Lear,and Susan Stamberg, among others.  Documentary, USA, 92 minutes, English.  Wednesday, November 17, 4 p.m., Sunday, November 21, 8:30 p.m.

Saviors in the Night:  Based on the true story of three German farm families who hid and saved a Jewish family during Nazi rule, the film reveals the complex relationships and emotional and physical hardships of saviors and saved. Ultimately hopeful, this example of a new self-reflective German film movement shows the potential for the heart to care for all humankind. The names of the farmers have been immortalized in Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.  JFF audience award winner.  Drama, Germany, 95 minutes, German, French and English, English subtitles.    Sunday, November 21, 6:30 p.m.

Hey Hey It’s Esther Blueberger: In this coming-of-age comedy, Esther, a feisty outsider at her posh private girls’ school, becomes desperate to fit in and discover her true self at the time of her Bat Mitzvah. Secretly, rebelling against her “perfect” upper middle class parents, Esther befriends Sunni, a public school bad girl and her super hip mom. Adopting a new identity, Esther becomes entangled in a web of lies, betrayal and bullying, ultimately finding a more honest self in the process. Actors include Keisha Castle- Hughes, Toni Collette and Danielle Catanzariti (winner of AFI Young Actors Award). Comedy, Australia, 103 minutes, English.  Tuesday, November 30, 7:15 p.m., Wednesday, December 1, 1:00 p.m. & 7:15 p.m. (7:15 show sold out—waitllist)

Nora’s Will:  Nora plots to reunite her family and friends by ending her life on the eve of Passover. In this dark comedy, her curmudgeonly ex-husband of 30 years propels the zany and poignant events forward, including hilarious burial plans, the expectations of several orthodox rabbis, answers to long held secrets and Nora’s meticulously pre-planned Seder. Winner of seven Ariel Awards (Mexican Academy Awards) including Best Picture, Best Original screenplay and Best Actor,  Comedy,  Mexico, 92 minutes, Spanish, English subtitles.  Tuesday, December 7, 7:15 p.m.

Tickets: $10 per matinee tickets, $12 per evening ticket. For further information on tickets, locations and times, contact the Jewish Community Center, Sonoma County (707) 528-4222 or Ellen Blustein (707) 526-5538  or ellenb@jccsoco.org or visit the JCC website www.jccsoco.org and click on Film Festival.

November 15, 2010 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sonoma County Jewish Film Festival turns 15–Something for Everyone, October 5 – December 1, 2010

Gertrude Berg in a scene from "Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg," sold out at the Sonoma County Jewish Film Festival. Gertrude starred in the domestic sitcom that started on radio and moved to television and established the character-driven domestic sitcom as a tv staple.

Looking for a mid-week lift?   The 15th annual Sonoma County Jewish Film Festival sponsored by the Jewish Community Center of Sonoma County is in full swing and the line-up is excellent.  In fact, whether you’re Jewish or not, you will appreciate having the world at your feet with this diverse mix of new international films that includes dramas, comedies, and documentaries, many of which have won numerous awards.  With the recent closing of the Rialto Lakeside Cinemas, The Sonoma County Jewish Film Festival is the main platform in Sonoma County for new independent and foreign films that otherwise get little exposure, outside of the film festival circuit.   The series of six films runs on Tuesday evenings at 7:15 pm at Cinema West’s Boulevard Cinemas in Petaluma and on Wednesdays at 1 pm and 7:15 pm at the Sixth Street Playhouse in Santa Rosa.  Screenings are selling out fast but individual tickets are still available for screenings at both venues.

The festival is the brainchild of Ellen Blustein, program director, who says that she and a dedicated programming committee screen films from around the world that are about engaging with life and that also have a Jewish connection.    The idea was originally to expand the outreach of the Jewish Community Center, a non-religious Jewish cultural organization in Sonoma County.   “Film was perfect.  What life lessons don’t get addressed in film?    That’s what keeps people in our community coming out to this festival.”  

Blustein is also proud that the festival  is financed entirely through private contributions.  At each screening, the sponsors for that particular film are asked to stand and are warmly applauded.  And, at every screening, there is a raffle—$2 buys a chance to win a fabulous prize, for example, dinner for two at Everest Restaurant and theatre tickets at the Cinnabar Theatre.  

Still left in the series—

 Yoo-Hoo Mrs. Goldberg:  For two and a half decades, Gertrude Berg, the creator of the wildly popular radio and TV show, “The Goldbergs” was the most famous woman in America, and the winner of the first ever Emmy Award for Lead Actress in a Comedy Series. The Oprah of her day, Gertrude Berg’s blend of comedy and social commentary, with Jewish characters at the center, endeared her to audiences and made her an American cultural icon. This highly entertaining feature length documentary blends interviews with Ed Asner, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Norman Lear,and Susan Stamberg, among others.  Documentary, USA, 92 minutes, English.  Tuesday, October 12, 7:15 p.m. PETALUMA and Wednesday, October 13, 1:00 p.m. & 7:15 p.m. SANTA ROSA

 Nora’s Will:  Nora plots to reunite her family and friends by ending her life on the eve of Passover. In this dark comedy, her curmudgeonly ex-husband of 30 years propels the zany and poignant events forward, including hilarious burial plans, the expectations of several orthodox rabbis, answers to long held secrets and Nora’s meticulously pre-planned Seder. Winner of seven Ariel Awards (Mexican Academy Awards) including Best Picture, Best Original screenplay and Best Actor,  Comedy,  Mexico, 92 minutes, Spanish, English subtitles.  Tuesday, October 19, 7:15 p.m. PETALUMA and Wednesday, October 20, 1:00 p.m. & 7:15 p.m. SANTA ROSA

Saviors in the Night:  Based on the true story of three German farm families who hid and saved a Jewish family during Nazi rule, the film reveals the complex relationships and emotional and physical hardships of saviors and saved. Ultimately hopeful, this example of a new self-reflective German film movement shows the potential for the heart to care for all humankind. The names of the farmers have been immortalized in Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.  JFF audience award winner.  Drama,  Germany, 95 minutes, German, French and English, English subtitles.  Tuesday, October 26, 7:15 p.m. PETALUMA and Wednesday, October 27, 1:00 p.m. & 7:15 p.m. SANTA ROSA

Camera Obscura: Growing up in late 19th century Buenos Aries, Gertrud  is a disappointment to her mother from the moment of her birth. As the invisible ugly duckling, she is compelled to create beauty in everything she does, while remaining unseen. Married off to an older Jewish rancher, her husband hires an itinerant photographer for a family portrait. Through the photographer’s eyes, Gertrudis becomes visible for the first time. This luminous, artistic film uses archival and surrealistic photographs, black and white film, and hand drawn animation.  Drama, Argentina, 86 minutes, Spanish and Yiddish, English subtitles.  Tuesday, November 16, 7:15 p.m. PETALUMA and Wednesday, November 17, 1:00 p.m. & 7:15 p.m. SANTA ROSA

Hey Hey It’s Esther Blueberger: In this coming-of-age comedy, Esther, a feisty outsider at her posh private girls’ school, becomes desperate to fit in and discover her true self at the time of her Bat Mitzvah. Secretly, rebelling against her “perfect” upper middle class parents, Esther befriends Sunni, a public school bad girl and her super hip mom. Adopting a new identity, Esther becomes entangled in a web of lies, betrayal and bullying, ultimately finding a more honest self in the process. Actors include Keisha Castle- Hughes, Toni Collette and Danielle Catanzariti (winner of AFI Young Actors Award). Comedy, Australia, 103 minutes, English.  Tuesday, November 30, 7:15 p.m. PETALUMA and Wednesday, December 1, 1:00 p.m. & 7:15 p.m. SANTA ROSA

Tickets: $10 per matinee tickets, $12 per evening ticket. For further information on tickets, locations and times, contact the Jewish Community Center, Sonoma County (707) 528-4222 or Ellen Blustein (707) 526-5538 or visit the JCC website www.jccsoco.org and click on Film Festival.

October 14, 2010 Posted by | Film | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment