Contra Costa Jewish Film Fest celebrates bar mitzvah year

Pearl Furman is no Hollywood brat.

She lives in Lafayette. She and her husband run an assisted living community in Walnut Creek. Yet somehow she and her family have the movies in their blood.

Furman’s son sold a screenplay to DreamWorks. Her brother helped form E! Entertainment. And she chairs the Contra Costa International Jewish Film Festival.

For East Bay movie lovers, Jewish or not, Furman says the festival is the place to be. A project of the Jewish Community Federation of the Greater East Bay and the Contra Costa Jewish Community Center, the festival runs March 1 through 7.

The line up this year includes many local premieres and, for the first time in the festival’s 13 years, a current Academy Award contender.

That would be “Beaufort,” a gripping Israeli war story based on the best-selling novel. The film is one of five best foreign language film nominees, and will be one of two opening night offerings. By then, the world will know which film won the Oscar. But no matter what, Furman expects “Beaufort” to pack the house.

The other opening night screening is “Noodle,” a warm, witty Israeli film about an El Al flight attendant’s effort to return an abandoned Chinese boy to his deported mother back in Beijing. It earned 10 Israeli Academy Award nominations last year and won the top prize at the Montreal World Film Festival.

Those two films, along with eight others, will screen at CineArts in Pleasant Hill. The remaining eight will screen at the Contra Costa JCC in Walnut Creek.

The diverse lineup includes films from France, Brazil, Holland, South Africa, the United States and Israel.

Among the highlights are the documentaries “Making Trouble: Three Generations of Funny Jewish Women”; “Longing: The Forgotten Jews of South America”; and “The Champagne Spy,” a true story about a Mossad agent passing as a wealthy ex-Nazi in Egypt.

For Oscar fans, Holland’s “Twin Sisters” — a foreign language film nominee from 2002 — is also on the schedule.

Others include “Aviva My Love,” a multiple award-winning Israeli romance, and the coming-of age tale “Sweet Mud,” which won five Israeli Oscars in 2006.

“My Father, My Lord,” also from Israel, won big at the Tribeca Film Festival last year. “Bad Faith” is a French comedy about a Muslim-Jewish couple. And if you like that subject, there’s also “The Bubble,” about a Muslim and a Jew dating in Tel Aviv. Only they’re gay.

One of Furman’s personal favorites this year is “Inside Out,” a South African comedy from 2000 about a Jewish actress pressed to stage the annual Christmas pageant in a small town.

“We look for quality films, and films with a Jewish connection,” she said. “When we find the intersection of those two, those are the ones we select.”

Because of Jewish community growth in the East Bay, yet another Jewish film festival is set to debut in the region, the Tri-Valley/Tri-City Jewish Film Series. It’s a small-scale offshoot of the Contra Costa festival, co-sponsored by Congregation Beth Emek in Pleasanton, Tri-Valley Cultural Jews, the federation’s regional office and Temple Beth Torah in Fremont.

Running March 2-6, the Tri-Valley series will offer only three screenings. Though small, it’s off to a promising start.

The schedule includes “Wondrous Oblivion,” a British racial drama from 2003; the Hungarian love triangle “Gloomy Sunday” from 1999; and “Aviva My Love.”

“I think it’s fabulous that the Jewish community is reaching out and establishing a presence in the Tri-Valley area,” Furman said. “A lot of young families out there that need to be connected.”

Since this is the festival’s “bar mitzvah” year, Furman and her colleagues are particularly excited. “The festival is bigger and better than ever, with some of the best films we’ve ever shown.”

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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.