Films from faraway places

Sign up for Weekday J and get the latest on what's happening in the Jewish Bay Area.

This week, the Jewish Film Festival is zooming in on faraway parts of the world.

Reaching out with celluloid tentacles, the festival brings images of Jewish life from Israel, Canada, Cuba and beyond into our own backyard.

As has become the annual tradition, local Jews will be lining up outside the theater, noshing on free bagels and chatting in the queue before they settle in for a cinematic journey.

In "Rhodes Forever" — the first-ever documentary devoted to Rhodes' Jews, and one of many premieres in this year's festival — audiences will vicariously trek to the island's Jewish quarter.

"The Yellow Ticket," a Bay Area premiere, will take viewers not only across the miles to a Polish shtetl but also back in time to 1918, when live music enriched every scene and faces told stories.

Moroccan ritual magic, Mexican Jewish factory workers, an Israeli advertising executive, a Holocaust survivor who never left Auschwitz — we meet all those people and more while traversing this year's crop of international Jewish films.

In many cases, the films' creators will be on hand as well.

The festival, in fact, is a jumping-off point for some of the lesser-known creators, as well as new Jewish films.

But the growing prestige of the festival, with screenings in both San Francisco and Berkeley, also attracts well-known directors and actors — from as far away as Belgium and Russia.

What the Jewish Film Festival succeeds in bringing out the most, however, is Bay Area Jews of every stripe, many of whom now consider it as integral a part of a Bay Area summer as fog.

Over the last 15 years, the festival has managed to entice many Jews who have no other contact with Jewish communal life. For at least a couple of hours, they become part of the global Jewish community they see onscreen.

And for some, that connection sparks lasting affiliations with Jewish life and thought.