Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 8 / 22 February 2018

Jewish spectrum


Scene from director Michal Vinik's Israeli lesbian teen romance Blush. Photo: SFJFF
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Edition # 36 of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival unfolds July 21-Aug. 7 at venues around the Bay: the Castro Theatre (July 21-31), Berkeley's Roda Theatre (July 29-Aug. 4), Oakland's Piedmont Theatre (Aug. 5-7), Palo Alto's Cinearts (July 23-28), and San Rafael's Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center (Aug. 5-7). The SFJFF programmers have traditionally sought to broaden our knowledge of Jewish history and culture, and provide timely updates from troubled parts of the globe. The film fest has also always been an excellent source of LGBT history. This year is no exception, which Michal Vinik's passionate Israeli lesbian teen romance Blush proves in entertaining fashion.

Blush At times silly, profound and wise, this little fable ignites with a 17-year-old's crush on a cute blonde classmate. Naama gets hooked on hard-partying, flirtatious Dana, who's better at the tease than at the squeeze. Naama's family is a trip unto itself, with a mostly silent, jug-eared baby brother and a hot-tempered dad forever seeking out an Israeli authority figure whom he calls "the commander" while his family tries to pretend they don't know him. Skipping by in a rapid-fire 85 minutes, Blush shows what life is really like in places we know to be far too dangerous for tourists or even soldiers. The filmmakers make their dueling languages (Hebrew and Arabic, with English subtitles) seem as delicious a choice as the girls' first stab at adult makeup. (Castro, 7/24; Piedmont, 8/6; Rafael, 8/7)

Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You A festival highlight is this 92-minute bio-doc from filmmakers Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady. In their personal, witty, literate and forward-looking film, Ewing and Grady find hope for the future in the memories and stories of the man who virtually created the model for American home entertainment. The 94-year-old Norman Lear will receive the SFJFF's Freedom of Expression Award on Sun., July 24, at a Castro screening. (also Cinearts, 7/25; Rafael, 8/7)

The People vs. Fritz Bauer In 1950s Germany, when a number of ex-Nazis barely hid in plain sight, a brave, closeted, gay Jewish official stood up to the challenge of pursuing mass murderer Adolph Eichmann. It was a time when many German prosecutors may have had their own swastika pasts. (Castro, 7/23; Cinearts, 7/26; Piedmont, 8/5; Rafael, 8/6)

The Freedom to Marry Eddie Rosenstein's informative, moving doc traces the history of the queer right-to-marry movement back to a then-obscure Harvard Law School student. Dubbed by the filmmakers "the Marriage Guy," Evan Wolfson doggedly pursued marriage equality even while friends and colleagues were more concerned with HIV/AIDS. Reagan's Supreme Court choice, a lawyer dubbed a "liquor lobbyist from Sacramento," Anthony Kennedy, would later translate into four significant pro-LGBT decisions, including the right to marry. The language of Justice Kennedy's majority opinion upholding a universal right to marry has proved so moving that many queer couples have opted to include it as part of their marriage vows. "No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were." Director Eddie Rosenstein and producer Jenni Olson will appear. (Castro, 7/29; Roda, 8/3)

Who's Gonna Love Me Now? The life and struggles of an HIV+ member of the London Gay Men's Chorus are movingly rendered. At 40, Saar Maoz is asked by his Orthodox parents to return home to Israel. Filmmakers Tomer and Barak Heymann reveal the complexities of a modern Jewish queer identity in this nonfiction prizewinner from the 2016 Berlin Festival. (Castro, 7/30; Cinearts, 7/24; Roda, 7/31)

Scene from director Aaron Brookner's portrait of his Uncle Howard. Photo: SFJFF

Uncle Howard Aaron Brookner digs back into NYC's 80s indie-film scene to offer this portrait of his uncle, Howard Brookner, a once-vital doc-maker who died of HIV/AIDS at 34. (Castro, 7/26; Roda, 8/4)

Screenagers One-man filmmaking machine, director-editor-cinematographer Delaney Ruston provides a free Sunday-morning seminar on how to unplug. Conducted at the Castro and followed by a bagels-and-cream-cheese Castro mezzanine nosh, this is an informative pit-stop open to all. (7/31)

Rabin in His Own Words November 4, 1995 was a dark night for the secular cultural community that identifies with a Jewish sensibility. All were shocked to hear that Israeli Prime Minister and former general Yitzhak Rabin had been assassinated by a right-wing Jewish extremist from the settler's movement. The murder was prompted by growing fears by the settlers that Rabin, a genuine Israeli war hero, would produce a peace agreement with the Palestinians that would thwart the settlers' dreams for a Biblically-sanctioned Greater Israel. Director Erez Laufer gathers photos and other records of Rabin's life from childhood through service in three wars to document the memories of a shattered peace. (Castro, 7/22; Cinearts, 7/24; Roda, 8/3)

Holy Zoo It probably does not surprise you to learn that Jerusalem has a so-called "Biblical Zoo." It may be a little surprising to learn that the facility is maintained by a staff of Jewish and Palestinian zookeepers. Director Katharina Waisburd peeps in as the zoo employees show both Muslim and Jewish schoolkids the origin of our species. Waisburd will appear in Palo Alto and SF. (Cinearts, 7/27; Castro, 7/28; Roda, 7/29)

Mr. Gaga Ohad Naharin, aka Mr. Gaga, is a hugely popular pop star-choreographer, creating a dance form both playful and physically demanding. The Castro screening is Single Jewish Mom Free, and director Tomer Heymann will be on hand. (Castro, 7/30; Roda, 7/31)

Sand Storm Bedouin teen Layla lives in a village in Israel's vast Southern desert. A hip kid with a car, cell phone and secret boyfriend, Layla is disturbed to observe her dad taking on a second wife, an arrangement her mom apparently agrees to. Director-writer Elite Zexer uses the natural beauty of the Negev Desert to spotlight the ongoing problems of modernity vs. traditionalism in many parts of the Holy Land. Sundance Film Festival World Cinema Grand Jury Prize winner. (Castro, 7/22; Cinearts, 7/24; Roda, 8/2)

How to Win Enemies Argentine director Gabriel Lichtmann mixes two popular styles of storytelling, Woody Allen comedy with Hitchcock suspense, as this story's comic hero bumbles his way into figuring out who swindled him out of a down payment on a new home. (Cinearts, 7/27; Castro, 7/28; Piedmont, 8/7)

Germans and Jews In this nuanced doc about an extremely sensitive topic, a small dinner party unfolds in a private Berlin home. The guests, some German-born and some Jewish-identified, are living in the new German and old Nazi capital. Filmmakers Janina Quint and Tal Recanati navigate a time 70 years after the end of WWII and revelations about the Nazi-sponsored Holocaust against Jews, gays, Gypsies and other persecuted minorities. At a dinner party, teachers and social leaders share memories of their identities and how they came by them. At film's end, a few teenage boys offer their own unique perspectives about a topic that will shape their adult lives. (Castro, 7/23; Cinearts, 7/28; Roda, 8/2)

A Tale of Love and Darkness Natalie Portman writes, directs and stars in an adaptation of the Amos Oz novel of the same title. Unfolding in 1948 as the new Jewish state is fighting for its survival, the film tells the harrowing story of Oz's mother, played by Portman. Believing the story should be told in Hebrew, Portman struggled for eight years to raise the film's budget. (Castro, 7/23; Roda, 8/4)

There Are Jews Here Poignant, overlooked stories of Jewish life in small-town America. Co-directors Brad Lichtenstein and Morgan Elise Johnson depict four communities so tiny as to make it virtually impossible to gather 10 Jewish men to form a quorum and carry on religious life. Lichtenstein will appear in SF and Berkeley. (Castro, 7/30; Roda, 8/1; Cinearts, 7/26)

A German Life "What did you do in the war, Grandma?" Four directors, including Christian Krones, give us a two-hour slice of an ordinary German working woman's days, from 1942 to war's end. Brunhilde Pomsel was personal secretary to Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels. For those with the stomach for still another chapter in the Nazi banality of evil, this film delivers the goods. The now-104-year-old functionary is photographed in close-up. Two of the directors will take questions in SF and Palo Alto, with an extended Q&A at Congregation Sha'ar Zahav. (Castro, 7/24; Cinearts, 7/25; Piedmont, 8/7)

Scene from director James Schamus' Indignation. Photo: SFJFF

A Grain of Truth Polish director Borys Lankosz turns a woman's ritual murder into a compelling thriller, an Eastern European take on the American crime mystery Seven. In Polish with English subtitles. (Castro, 7/25; Piedmont, 8/5)

Jews in Shorts An eclectic shorts collection includes I, Dalio, the tale of a Jewish screen character whose face can be seen in French and Hollywood melodramas including such classics as Casablanca and Catch-22. Tempts viewers into a parlor game of guessing, Where have I seen that face before? Director Mark Rappaport is so good at manipulating his character actor subject's features that the short starts to take on the heft of a Jewish Celluloid Closet. (Castro, 7/27; Piedmont, 8/6)

Indignation Brokeback Mountain producer James Schamus gets a compelling performance from rising Jewish character actor Logan Lerman as a young atheist who finds prejudice and cultural pushback as a butcher's son who seeks a college education in Korean War-era America. Based on a Philip Roth short story, the film has received high praise from Roth himself. With Sarah Gadon and Tracy Letts. Director Schamus will appear. (Rafael, 8/5)


Tickets: (415) 621-0523. Info:


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