Jewish films with a difference

At first glance, Page One this week might look like a mix of two disparate themes. On one hand, we have a heady analysis on the prospects of the Camp David peace summit. On the other hand, we have what might appear trivial next to it, a story about this year's San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, which opens Thursday.

Yet the two topics are not as disparate as they may seem. In the 20 years of its existence, the festival has helped shape moviegoers' thoughts on global Jewish issues, especially peace with Palestinians.

Although the festival often has been criticized for showing what some consider films with a left-wing perspective, its selections have been thought-provoking, offering a multidimensional vision of the Jewish world.

Through hundreds of films screened now at four venues in the Bay Area, the festival has provided an entree to Jewish culture for thousands of moviegoers, many of whom are not Jewish.

By carefully avoiding a formulaic approach that has too often characterized the treatment of Jews in Hollywood, the festival has opened our eyes to a broader picture.

Over the years, it has portrayed not only Jews coping with the repercussions of the Holocaust but modern Israelis coping with love and Katyushas, Americans dealing with identity issues, French Jews coping with family mishugas.

In addition, the festival has never shied away from controversy, addressing gay and lesbian concerns, conflicts between Jewish groups as well as Jewish-Palestinian strife.

While the festival has its detractors, we applaud the organizers for raising our consciousness through multiple images of Jewish life and the real issues confronted by modern Jews. That the festival has inspired some 20 others is testimony to its success. Representatives of those events, in fact, will be in San Francisco next week for the first conference on Jewish film festivals.

The festival also has served as an instrument of outreach, bringing back thousands who have had little connection to the Jewish community.

We are proud to celebrate the 20th anniversary of a wonderful cultural feast. And as we look at the bigger issues at Camp David, we recognize that film, too, can provide a pathway to deeper understanding.