Sieg heil, mein satire

Every year, j. gets letters from moviegoers upset about a perceived pro-Palestinian bias in the programming at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.

Well, this year there may be some variety thanks to “My Fuehrer: The Truly Truest Truth About Adolf Hitler.” For those not tickled by the idea of a German comedy about the Third Reich, get your pens ready.

It’s not as if a Hitlerian comedy is virgin territory: “The Producers” is enjoying massive success on and off Broadway, as well as in the 2005 remake of the 1968 film.

But it’s one thing for American Jew Mel Brooks to poke fun at Hitler. It remains to be seen how it plays when the Germans do so. “It’s provocative for sure,” said Peter Stein, SFJFF executive director.

Think along the lines of “The Producers,” “The Great Dictator” and “Hogan’s Heroes” — but with German casts, crews, financing and a hit reception in Der Vaterland.

Director Dani Levy, however, is a Swiss-born Jew. Whether it would be kosher for a non-Jewish director to release such a film in Germany has been a prime topic of discussion there and, Stein guesses, will be here as well.

“In the last few years in Germany, there has been an explosion of Hitler biographies and psycho-biographies, especially on film. ‘Downfall,’ which was nominated for an Academy Award, was a very intense look at Hitler’s last few days in the bunker,” Stein said.

“Dani is curious about why the German public seems to be more interested in debating whether film depictions of Hitler ‘humanize’ him. Well, Hitler was human, and we need to deal with that,” he said.

“Dani’s preferred form of dealing with serious issues has been through comedy,” he continued. “He wants to puncture the balloon of political correctness he saw starting to develop around the topic of Jews and the Holocaust in Germany.”

Levy will be on hand to receive the SFJFF Freedom of Expression Award following the July 24 screening of his film at the Castro Theatre.

In Levy’s comedy, Jews will experience a number of Hitlerian revenge fantasies through the fictional character Abe Gruenbaum, a Jewish drama coach plucked from the camps to help Hitler with a crucial speech. To bolster the Fuehrer’s dramatic skills, Gruenbaum makes him bark like a dog, wander about in bizarre clothing and generally behave like a Col. Klink-esque bumbling fool.

Levy is “excited to see how the American public, which is much more inured with satire about serious issues — we went through ‘Borat’ last year — receives [‘My Fuehrer’] here,” Stein said.

While a barking Hitler in a track suit is a new twist for the film festival, there will still be plenty of films touching on the Middle East (as one would expect when 26 of the 54 films are Israeli).

Two of the more controversial selections are documentaries: “9 Star Hotel” and “Hot House.”

“9 Star” is the tongue-in-cheek nickname for the cardboard-and-plywood dwellings inhabited by Palestinian workers who illegally sneak across the border into Israel to seek work. Filmmaker Ido Haar uses a laser pointer rather than a floodlight to focus on the joys, hardships and gripes of a small group of these men, who have harsh critiques for Palestinian and Israeli society.

“It’s a deep film and it’s also sad,” said Stein, adding that the parallels to Latino workers in California are hard to miss.

“Hot House” is a firsthand look at the frequently unrepentant Palestinians doing hard time in Israeli jails. The film’s horticultural title refers to the notion that Israel is cultivating the next generation of Palestinian leadership within its own jails.

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.