35th S.F. Jewish film festival kicks off with quirky comedy

Expecting an audience of some 35,000, the 35th annual San Francisco Jewish Film Festival will bring 70 films from 17 countries to Bay Area screens this summer.

The diverse lineup of documentaries, dramas and comedies screens from July 23 to Aug. 9 at five theaters in San Francisco, Palo Alto, San Rafael and the East Bay, with a new venue in Oakland, the 400-seat Lakeside Theater within the Kaiser Center by Lake Merritt.

Adding to the festivities, the opening night party takes place at the Contemporary Jewish Museum.

“It’s a huge Bay Area cultural community event,” said Lexi Leban, executive director of the festival. The festival is the signature event of the umbrella organization, now known as the Jewish Film Institute, which holds year-round programming.

“Dough” stars Jonathan Pryce as a Jewish baker whose Muslim assistant saves the business by adding cannabis to the challah.

This year’s offerings range from Middle East politics to comedies to films focusing on music and the arts.

The festival’s opening night film, “Dough,” a British entry directed by John Goldschmidt, tells the story of an aging kosher baker whose Muslim apprentice revitalizes business by adding cannabis to the challah. Goldschmidt and actor Jerome Holder will attend opening night at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco and the Palo Alto showing on July 26.

The centerpiece documentary, “The Armor of Light,” by director Abigail Disney, chronicles the Rev. Rob Schenck, an evangelical, militant pro-life activist (raised Jewish) who becomes concerned about gun violence and teams up with Lucy McBath, mother of an unarmed teenager murdered in Florida, to fight against stand-your-ground laws.

“He reveals himself to be a very open and critical thinker,” said Leban, adding that McBath will attend the festival.

“As I AM: The Life and Times of DJ AM” anchors the Next Wave portion of the festival, aimed at moviegoers ages 35 and under. With that in mind, the July 30 screening at San Francisco’s Castro Theatre will be followed by a late-night party deejayed by Mix Master Mike at the Public Works SF.

Directed by Kevin Kerslake, the documentary traces the short life of DJ AM (born Adam Goldstein), a successful DJ who died at age 36 of a drug overdose a year after surviving severe burns in a plane crash. The film features footage of DJ AM performing the first rap he ever wrote, which was about Hebrew school.

“Even though it’s a sad story, it’s inspiring in many ways,” said Jay Rosenblatt, program director. The film chronicles DJ AM’s musical journey and collaboration with hip-hop stars. Though he struggled with his own drug addiction, he helped others become sober.

A film about New Yorker cartoonists, “Very Semi-Serious,” will precede Berkeley’s “Big Night” celebration on Aug. 1. The film, at California Theatre, includes interviews with the magazine’s best-known cartoonists, many of them Jewish, and provides insights into their quirky points of view. Cartoonist Bruce Eric Kaplan, known as BEK, will attend the post-film party at the David Brower Center in Berkeley.

On July 31, five films relating to social justice screen at the Castro to mark Take Action Day, an event devoted to community engagement. Festivalgoers can buy a daylong pass, which includes entrance to all five movies, a panel discussion with filmmakers and a party in the mezzanine.

Eight documentaries address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and former Jerusalem bureau chief for the Washington Post Janine Zacharia will moderate a panel discussion with four of the filmmakers on Aug. 1 at the Castro.

This year’s Freedom of Expression award goes to Lee Grant (born Lyova Haskell Rosenthal). The veteran actress, director and producer will accept her award onstage at the Castro following the screening of her first directorial feature, “Tell Me a Riddle.”

The festival closes on a high note with “East Jerusalem, West Jerusalem,” an Israeli film featuring singer-songwriter David Broza.

The San Francisco Jewish Film Festival
runs July 23-Aug. 2 at the Castro Theatre, S.F.; July 25-30 at Ciné[email protected] Alto Square; July 31-Aug. 6 at the California Theatre, Berkeley; Aug. 7-9 at the Lakeside Theater, Oakland; and Aug. 7-9 at Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center, San Rafael. Complete schedules and pricing are at www.sfjff.org.