Festivals day of films, dialogue to repair the world

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Two of San Francisco’s calling cards are art and activism. So the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival’s idea to create a lineup of films that can galvanize social action was a natural.

And since social action starts with dialogue, said Lexi Leban, the festival’s executive director, each of the five films on “Take Action Day” not only will be followed by a panel discussion, but after that, interested audience members can continue the discussion elsewhere in the theater.

“We know how our audiences hate to get cut off when they have more to say, so we’re making space for them to talk as much as they want to about the issues,” Leban said. “It’s about expanding Jewish life through dialogue.”

The July 29 event is subtitled “Repairing the World, One Film at a Time,” and all five films to be shown at the Castro Theatre were chosen for their portrayals of activism on front-and-center social issues. In addition to the films, panels and discussions, information will also be available on ways to get involved.

The full day of activity begins with the first film at 11 a.m. and ends sometime after 10:30 p.m. Patrons can buy a ticket to individual films, which will include the ensuing panel discussions, or purchase a day pass.

The films — all of them documentaries, in a variety of styles — address topics such as income inequality, abortion rights, violence against women and girls in the age of social media, and LGBTQ issues including the right to marry.  Four of the five films were made by Jewish directors.

What’s being billed as the centerpiece film of the day, at least in terms of the size of its post-screening panel, is “The Freedom to Marry,” which traces the three-decade struggle to legalize same-sex marriage spearheaded by civil rights attorney Evan Wolfson. The 86-minute film will screen at 3:50 p.m.

The panel discussion afterward will be moderated by Bay Area filmmaker Susan Stern (“Barbie Nation,” “The Self-Made Man”) and will include the film’s director, Eddie Rosenstein. Others on the panel will be Ruth McFarlane of the National Center for Lesbian Rights; Andrea Shorter of Out and Equal; Matt Foreman, the senior program director for gay and lesbian rights at the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund; and Jo Michael of Equality California.

“Many people treat the passage of Prop. 8 as if it were a forgone conclusion, but it wasn’t,” Stern said. “It took strategic planning. And we need that on so many other fronts: inequality, poverty, LGBTQ. I think all the issues are related, so we can study the marriage equality struggle for lessons learned, going forward.”

Said Leban: “When we scheduled this film, Orlando had not yet happened, the transgender bathroom issue had not come to the foreground and the sense of a growing societal backlash had not escalated to its current level.” In other words, the discussion after the film should be chock-full of topics and tangents.

The day will begin at 11 a.m. with the screening of “A New Color: The Art of Being Edythe Boone.” The 57-minute film is about the art and activism of Berkeley muralist and painter Edythe “Edy” Boone, an energetic septuagenarian African American who was raised for a few years by Jewish foster parents. The panel afterward will discuss how art can be used as a tool to address social injustices and empower people in marginalized communities. The panelists will be Boone herself, director Mo Morris and Allison Elgart of the Equal Justice Society.

“Abortion: Stories Women Tell” will screen next, at 1:25 p.m. The discussion following the 93-minute film will focus on the state of abortion and reproductive rights nationwide and the legal issues surrounding access for all women. The panelists will be Amy Everitt, the state director for NARAL Pro-Choice America, and Sara Spriggs, operations manager for ACCESS Women’s Health Justice.

Following “The Freedom to Marry” and its ensuing panel will be “Class Divide” at 6:40 p.m. Directed by longtime director Marc Levin, the 75-minute film is a story of gentrification and income inequality on Manhattan’s West Side. The post-film panel will include the film’s producer, Mike Farrah; Victor Rubin, a top researcher at PolicyLink; and Leila Davari-Bitton, an organizer at the Jewish social action agency Bend the Arc. Topics will include the implications of economic inequality in the Bay Area.

The lineup concludes at 8:50 p.m. with “Audrie and Daisy,” a 96-minute documentary that looks into the stories of two high school girls who were sexually assaulted in unrelated incidents; in both cases the perpetrators posted videos of what they did on the internet.  One of the girls is 15-year-old Audrie Pott of Saratoga, who killed herself in 2012. The film is from the award-winning team of Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk (“The Rape of Europa”), who will join Esta Soler, the director of Futures Without Violence, on the post-film panel.

This marks the third time the 36-year-old festival has set aside a day for dialogue around social justice films.

“Complex issues can leave us feeling helpless,” Leban said, “but these films offer inspiring examples of how people work to make real change.”

Stern said “Take Action Day” comes at a time when the nation is gripped by many social challenges, some of which make people feel helpless, notably guns and violence.

“By bringing filmmakers and experts together with the public, this event gives us a chance to talk about it, and maybe bring forward some ideas and solutions,” she said. “I see it as a day of hope.”

“Take Action Day” begins at 11 a.m. July 29 at the Castro Theatre, 429 Castro St., S.F. Individual films $14-$15, day passes $30 for JFI members, $36 for others.

Laura Pall
Laura Paull

Laura Paull was J.'s culture editor from 2018 to 2021.