From Tevye the Milkman to Krusty the Clown: S.F. Jewish film fests diverse lineup

A Polish priest who discovers late in life he is a Jew. A local Jewish lawyer who fights to free a client from a life in prison. A black-and-white, Yiddish-speaking Tevye from 1939. Krusty the Clown.

Those are some of the characters that constitute the dramatis personae of the 31st San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, which will run July 21 through Aug. 8 at five Bay Area locations — including one new one, the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto.

This year’s lineup, which was formally announced at a press conference June 21, includes 58 films from 16 countries. As always, many actors, writers and directors will attend and take part in post-screening discussions and Q&A sessions.

A 2010 film about Hungarian Jews during World War II, “In Another Lifetime” (above) is part of this year’s festival, as is the 1939 Yiddish melodrama “Tevye” (below). photos/courtesy of the sfjff

Festival organizers chose the 2011 Israeli family drama “Mabul” (The Flood) as the opening night selection for the Castro Theatre, and director Guy Nattiv will be on hand to answer audience questions afterward. The film also will screen at the festival’s venues in Berkeley, San Rafael and Palo Alto.

As always, the festival will include films that orbit around various themes. In the past, some of those themes were broken out into distinct programs — such as last year’s “Tough Guys: Images of Jewish Gangsters in Film” — but this year the themes are more low key. They include dysfunctional families, past and present Jewish life in Poland and humor.

This year’s centerpiece film is “Little Rose,” a spy thriller set in communist-era Poland. It will screen once at each of the four major venues.

The oldest film in the lineup is “Tevye,” a Yiddish language film shot in New Jersey in 1939 and later the inspiration for “Fiddler on the Roof.” The 35-mm restored print will include English subtitles.

Other titles include “Crime After Crime” (about a Berkeley lawyer’s fight to free a black woman imprisoned for killing her abusive husband) and “Bobby Fischer Against the World” (which showed recently on HBO).

The festival also is branching out and showing its first-ever horror film, “Rabies.” It’s about a woman trapped by a psychotic killer in an Israeli forest, and it will be shown only once, in a 10 p.m. screening July 21 at the Castro.

As for Krusty the Clown, the misanthropic, chain-smoking kid’s entertainer — and the son of a rabbi — from “The Simpsons” will be part of a one-time program (July 25 at the Castro) called “Jews in Toons,” featuring classic Jewish-themed episodes of that show, “Family Guy” and “South Park.”

The biggest crowd-pleaser, though, may well be actor Kirk Douglas. The 94-year-old film legend will be on hand July 24 at the Castro to accept the 2011 Freedom of Expression Award. Two of Douglas’s films, “Spartacus” (1960) and the little-known post-Holocaust drama “The Juggler” (1953), will be shown.

One of the special programs being offered is a free workshop titled “How to Talk About Controversial Films Without Fighting.” Set for two sessions July 31, it is being held under the auspices of the Year of Civil Discourse (a 2011 program run by the S.F.-based Jewish Community Relations Council).

The 2011 festival marks the end of an era, as it will be the last for Executive Director Peter Stein, who will step down later this year after eight years on the job.

In a note to festival-goers, Stein said, “As I step down this fall to resume roles I played when I first discovered [the festival] — as a filmmaker and a fan — I appreciate more than ever the unique space for art and engagement that this festival creates every year. Keep the conversation going.”

This year’s festivities include a pre-festival kickoff showing of the 1989 romantic comedy “When Harry Met Sally” outdoors in Union Square on July 16. The film will begin around 8:45 p.m. and admission is free.

In addition to the Castro Theatre (July 21-31), this year’s venues are the JCC of San Francisco (July 30-31), the Roda Theatre at the Berkeley Rep (July 30–Aug. 6), the Smith Rafael Film Center in San Rafael (Aug. 6-8) and a first-time location for the SFJFF — the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto (Aug. 1-7).

Tickets went on sale June 21 for SFJFF members; Friday, June 24 is the first day of general sales. For the full lineup of films, ticket prices and other information, visit or call (415) 621-0556.

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.