36th S.F. Jewish Film Festival draws largest audience yet

The annual San Francisco Jewish Film Festival wrapped up Aug. 7, with organizers noting an all-time record audience of 40,000 attendees. The festival is the marquee program of the S.F.-based Jewish Film Institute.

SFJFF former executive director Peter L. Stein interviews Norman Lear, 93, on July 24. photo/courtesy sfjff

Over 18 days, the festival screened 67 films at five theaters — the Castro in San Francisco, CinéArts in Palo Alto, Roda in Berkeley, Piedmont in Oakland and Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center in San Rafael. Organizers say the number of tickets sold was the highest in the festival’s 36-year history (last year’s audience total was around 35,000).

More than 50 filmmakers, actors and other key figures came to speak in post-screening Q&A sessions and panels.

Many events sold out, including the afternoon the festival gave TV legend Norman Lear its Freedom of Expression Award. “We were so honored to bestow our award on him, and his presence was the highlight of this year’s festival,” said JFI program director Jay Rosenblatt.

“The record-breaking attendance this year is evidence that audiences feel a vital need to come together in community to enjoy world-class programming,” added JFI executive director Lexi Leban.

She noted that some features introduced this year, such as streaming TV and web series, panels and discussions on Facebook, and “new partnerships with local celebrity chefs” — met with “incredible success.”

“We will continue to move in new and innovative directions in years to come,” she said. — dan pine