Film festival: catalyst for discussion

The arrival of summer in San Francisco brings with it a few certainties, the fog rolling in on a summer's day being just one. But it also signals perhaps the most anticipated event on many people's Jewish calendar: the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.

According to Don Adams, the festival's new director, its mission "is not just to show the best in Jewish cinema but to illuminate the question of what it means to be a Jew in today's world, and to serve as a catalyst for discussion."

In looking at this year's lineup, there's no doubt that it will do just that.

The Palestinian intifada is going into its third year. And no matter where one falls on the political spectrum, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues to remain foremost on many people's minds.

With so much discussion revolving around the "road map" to peace, the security fence, the settlements, the checkpoints, the Green Line and the players involved, little attention is paid to what daily life in the Middle East is actually like. And that is where film comes in; it can give us that immediacy like no other medium.

But while many of the films are about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, even more are not. This window onto Jewish life around the globe continues to challenge our own stereotypes of ourselves. We value the film festival not only for its movies but for its post-film discussions that can provoke ideas that go against our longtime assumptions and force us to consider things in a different light. And we value it for building community.

It's no wonder, then, that more than one festivalgoer has told Adams as well as his predecessor, Janis Plotkin, that the festival is "my Rosh Hashanah" and the Castro Theatre "my shul."