Celluloid youth

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Roger Ebert isn’t looking over his shoulder just yet, but he might want to keep an eye out for Elan Lubliner.

That’s because at age 15, Lubliner is already a regularly published film critic (in his school newspaper), an incurable movie buff and a current board member of the Contra Costa International Jewish Film Festival.

He was one of those deciding which films made it to the festival’s line-up this year. The 11th annual edition of the festival runs from March 4-10 at two locations in Contra Costa County.

Lubliner has seen all the films and is particularly excited about the opening night entry, “Va, Vis et Deviens (Go, See and Become).” A French-Israeli co-production, it tells the story of the Ethiopian Jews rescued by Israel and transported to the Jewish homeland during Operation Moses.

“It’s a great film,” says Lubliner. “I got the chance to see it a couple of months ago. The star [Ethiopian-Israeli actor Sirhak Sabahat] is going to speak at the screening — that should be great.”

Other films in the festival this year hail from Israel, Spain, Germany, Canada and the United States. Titles include prizewinners like “Syrian Bride,” “Go for Zucker!” and “Ushpizin,” which won the Israeli Academy Award for best actor. Documentaries cover topics as varied as convicted spy Jonathan Pollard, songwriter Debbie Friedman and Jewish veterans of World War II.

Lubliner’s enthusiasm for film may have a genetic component. His Israeli-born father, Efi Lubliner, has been on the Contra Costa Jewish Film Festival board for several years, and began exposing his son to the joys of cinema when Eli was knee-high to an Ewok.

“I remember my first foreign film,” he says. “It was ‘Shall We Dance,’ a Japanese film about ballroom dancing. I couldn’t read the subtitles, so throughout my dad whispered to me what was happening. I feel bad for the people who were in the audience.”

But the excitement of cinema never left him. He is a big fan of classic films, with Orson Welles, Martin Scorsese and Ingmar Bergman among his favorite filmmakers (though his all-time favorite movie is “The Shawshank Redemption,” from 1994).

That predilection for classic films is unusual for teens of Lubliner’s generation. He readily admits he has a hard time finding like-minded movie buffs his age.

“It’s unfortunate that kids my age lack the intellectual capacity to see incredible films just because they’re in black and white,” he says. “Kids have such a small mindset. They want action or nudity — that’s all they care about it. I have very few friends who appreciate the films I do.”

Born in Oakland, the Moraga resident is not just a movie fan, but a proud Jew as well. “I grew up being more happy about being Jewish than any of my Jewish friends,” he says. “From an early age I learned family comes first. Every Friday night we have Shabbat. That’s tradition, that’s the way I was raised.”

With an Israeli father, it’s no surprise he also grew up very pro-Israel. Lubliner is also vice president of Israel affairs for the West Coast branch of United Synagogue Youth, a Conservative teen organization.

Last year he volunteered to hand out flyers for the film festival. His engaging ways led festival director Riva Gambert to invite him to join the board. But at 15, even a natural born leader like Lubliner might be intimidated surrounded by adults. Then again, he might not.

“They’re great,” he says of his board colleagues. “They treat me really well. I feel like an adult when I’m with them. Everyone talks, everyone argues. It’s a typical Jewish meeting. But when I talk they take my comments seriously.”

A sophomore at Moraga’s Campolindo High School, Lubliner looks forward to taking a video production class next year, and his long-range plans include screenwriting and directing.

But Hollywood Boulevard is famous as the street of broken dreams, so the ever-practical Lubliner is hedging his bets, saying, “I’ll always be happy writing reviews.”

Complete E. Bay fest schedule

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.