Now playing: Movies that hit seniors right where they live

Seniors at three local Jewish residence facilities don’t need to worry about checking the movie listings anymore. Once every month, big-screen dramas and documentaries are being brought to them … with popcorn.

A relatively new program titled “The San Francisco Jewish Film Festival Presents” is showing movies once a month to residents of the Jewish Home and Rhoda Goldman Plaza in San Francisco and the Reutlinger Community for Jewish Living in Danville.

“It’s really good PR for the film festival,” said Myra Feiger, who organized and launched the program in 2007 as the SFJFF’s community outreach coordinator. “And it’s our way of giving back to the community.”

Indeed, the in-house nicknames for the program are the “mitzvah series” and “mitzvah movies.” Each month, one film plays at each of the facilities.

Feiger aims to show critically acclaimed dramas and documentaries, and she tries to pick films that are no longer than 90 minutes. “Elders don’t always appreciate movies that are too long,” she said.

Her other basic rules of thumb: “I don’t show heavy-duty Holocaust films, and I try to vary the subject matter. I pick ones that are appropriate for seniors.”

Feiger said she never shows a film that is subtitled, because films that require reading the dialogue are often too hard for seniors to follow. She also leads a post-film discussion with the residents after each viewing.

Feiger, a fulltime staffer with the SFJFF during the festival season, volunteers her time to the “mitzvah series” in part because, since her 91-year-old mother lives in Los Angeles, she wants to connect with seniors locally.


A still from the 2005 film “Watermarks,” the story of the champion women swimmers of the legendary Jewish sports club Hakoah Vienna.

The biggest problem the series has encountered, she said, is the lack of funding. “Without funding,” Feiger said, “we can’t branch out” to other facilities in the Bay Area.


In addition, stressed Nancy Fishman, the executive director of the SFJFF, if the program had funding, the SFJFF would be able to compensate filmmakers who donate their movies.

The main reason for wanting to branch out, Feiger said, is because the series has been a blockbuster hit since it began at the Reutlinger center in Danville in 2007. The San Francisco facilities were added to the mix in October 2008.

 “The program is fantastic,” said Carol Goldman, program director at Reutlinger. “We average 50 to 60 people, and Myra makes it a special event. The film festival is only once a year and we can only take a few residents, and the time is not always conducive. So it’s really good the Jewish Film Festival is reaching out to us in Danville.”

Mediatrix Valera, the activities director at the Jewish Home in San Francisco, echoed Goldman’s sentiments. “The residents here really love the program,” Valera said. “Myra gives us a brief synopsis of the movies, which we use to generate interest in them.”

Both the Jewish Home and Rhoda Goldman Plaza attract around 40 people for each screening, said Feiger, who was the national sales and marketing director for Wente Vineyards in Livermore for 22 years before joining the SFJFF nearly seven years ago.

The schedule of future features is not yet set, as each film is selected only a month or so in advance.

Late last year, the 2007 documentary “Constantine’s Sword” was shown to rave reviews — and its topic, Jewish-Catholic relations, elicited much conversation by the audience after the show.

Another film people enjoyed was “Arranged,” a 2007 film about the friendship between two female teachers in Brooklyn, N.Y., one an Arab and the other an Orthodox Jew.

In January, the film that showed was “Watermarks,” the story of the champion women swimmers of the legendary sports club Hakoah Vienna amid the horror of Nazism in Germany and Austria and the subsequent reunion of many of the women 65 years later.

The English-language movie garnered several awards, including audience prizes at Jewish film festivals in Boston and Washington, D.C.

But show a movie to any Jewish audience and there’s bound to be at least person in the crowd giving it a “thumbs-down.”

“It wasn’t a monumental film,” said Fred Neustadter, 85, after watching “Watermarks” Jan. 7 at the Jewish Home in San Francisco. “It wasn’t high-powered intellectual entertainment. It seems as if the film was subsidized by the Austrian Travel Bureau and attempted to show that Austrians have returned to a more civilizing way.”

A native of Germany who fled in 1938, Neustadter opined like a paid movie critic that “Watermarks had no message in it, but as light entertainment the film was OK. I wouldn’t write to my friends in New York to see it.”

Neustadter’s honest assessment fits in with Feiger’s vision for the series: allowing seniors to see movies that are intellectually stimulating enough to stir debate.

And, fear not, Neustadter does give a “thumbs-up” to that.

“The mitzvah series is certainly worthwhile,” Neustadter added. “No question about it.”

“San Francisco Jewish Film Festival Presents” is part of the SFJFF’s community outreach program. Information: (415) 621-0556 or [email protected].

Steven Friedman

Steven Friedman is a freelance writer.