Now Playing! SF Jewish Film Festival Hails Heroines and Villains
Perhaps itâs my imagination, but the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival (SFJFF) always seems to arrive at a moment of heightened intensity. This year itâs the faux controversy prompted by Ben & Jerryâs decision to cease sales to settlements in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories. Access to ice cream doesnât rank as high on my list of concerns as, say, global antisemitism, but fake outrage is a helluva drug.
Streaming online July 22âAug. 1 and unspooling on the Castro Theatreâs big screen Saturday and Sunday, July 24 and 25, the festival program skips dessert to load up on serious subjects. If you treat film festivals as travelogues, the SFJFF will drop you in a veritable field of briar patches.
A scene from ‘200 Meters.’ (Courtesy Alaa Ali Abdallah)
The Castro slate begins Saturday morning with 200 Meters, Jordanâs entry for the International Feature Oscar and the festivalâs centerpiece narrative. Ameen Nayfehâs open-hearted though underwritten debut feature follows a law-abiding Palestinian family man who pays a smuggler to get him into Israel to see his hospitalized son. Another protagonist forced to take drastic actionâa concentration camp inmate passing himself off as Persianâdrives the opening night drama, Persian Lessons.
The nonfiction lineup at the Castro boasts the revelatory Sundance entry, My Name is Pauli Murray (opening in September before landing on Amazon Prime), about the extraordinary 20th century Black activist, writer, lawyer and priest(!). Fresh from Frameline, the wrenching Prognosis: Notes on Living follows San Francisco filmmaker Debra Chasnoffâs journey after her advanced cancer diagnosis. A Kaddish for Bernie MadoffâSong and Dance swaps veritÃ© for a poetic, personal approach, as Alicia Jo Rabins, with director Alicia J. Rose, expands her stage musical about the Ponzi villain through the medium of film.
A still from ‘My Name is Pauli Murray.’ (SFJFF)
Mischa and the Wolves, a slick British doc that premiered at Sundance (and comes to Netflix Aug. 11), recounts the bizarre chain of events surrounding the 1997 U.S. publication of a French-set Holocaust memoir. Filmmaker Sam Hobkinson focuses on the stranger-than-truth aspects, maximizing suspense for entertainmentâs sake while sidestepping the sagaâs moral, real-world implications. Rounding out the SFJFFâs theatrical component is the recent restoration of The Light Ahead, one of four Yiddish-language films made in the 1930s by Hollywood outsider Edgar Z. Ulmer (Detour) on the East Coast.
Heading online, those seeking the âreal movieâ comforts of high production values and crisp plotting are directed to Powder Keg, Danish writer-director Ole Christian Madsenâs (Flame & Citron) slow-burn dramatization of the days leading up to a 2015 terror attack in Copenhagen. Spiraling around four men (including the shooter) on the cusp of major life changes, Madsen constructs a mournful mosaic of personal morality and individual sacrifice. Israeli brothers Yoav and Doron Pazâs big-budget Plan A is an uncomfortable, fact-based interrogation of Jewish revenge in postwar Germany that puts the self-styled king of payback, Quentin Tarantino, to shame. Starring August Diehl in a haunted performance with echoes of Willem Dafoe and Klaus Kinski, Plan A is a feature-length dark night of the soul.
Both films should receive theatrical runs in coming months, along with the terrific semi-autobiographical coming-of-age tale Neighbours. Swiss-based Kurdish filmmaker Mano Khalil revisits his early-â70s childhood in the remote northeastern corner of Syria, where Baathist ultranationalism arrived before electricity. The future isnât bright for little Sero and his Kurdish family, nor for the Jewish family next door, yet Neighbours (which received the S.F. Bay Area Film Critics Circle jury prize) affirms the valuesâand just maybe the triumphâof empathy, dignity and decency.
The San Francisco Jewish Film Festival runs July 22âAug. 1 online and at the Castro Theatre. Details here.
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