Gilda Radner in the documentary “Love, Gilda” (Photo/Courtesy SFJFF)
Gilda Radner in the documentary “Love, Gilda” (Photo/Courtesy SFJFF)

SF Jewish Film Festival announces lineup

The Jewish Film Institute has announced its lineup for the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, the 38th annual summer event for Bay Area cinephiles and lovers of Jewish history, culture and ideas.

The 18-day festival, which will showcase 67 films from 22 countries, runs July 19 to Aug. 5 at venues in San Francisco, Albany, Oakland, Palo Alto and San Rafael. It will include 11 Big Nights with filmmakers present or post-film events, and 38 premieres, including two world premieres.

One is the debut of the newly restored 1924 silent film from Austria “The City Without Jews,” a dystopian satire about anti-Semitism in Austria between the world wars. A collaboration with the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, it will feature a performance by the Musical Arts Quintet of an original score by Sascha Jacobsen, commissioned by the SFJFF.

Another much-anticipated world premiere is “Who Will Write Our History,” about the Polish Jewish historian Emanuel Ringelblum and a secret archive from the Warsaw Ghetto documenting what ghetto inhabitants were enduring.

A Take Action Day at the Castro will present social-issue films followed by panel discussions to help viewers channel their concerns into action. The festival also is bringing back the free Saturday and Sunday morning screenings for single mothers with young children.

Opening night in San Francisco on July 19 will feature a one-time-only screening of “Love, Gilda,” in advance of its fall theatrical release. The documentary by director Lisa D’Apolito is a portrait of the comic actress Gilda Radner, who rose to fame with the original cast of “Saturday Night Live” and continues to influence women in the entertainment world. The director will be in attendance, as well as fellow “SNL” cast member Laraine Newman.

The East Bay opening-night film July 26 at the Albany Twin is “The Oslo Diaries” by Mor Loushy and Daniel Sivan, a behind-the-scenes deep dive into the negotiations between the PLO and the Israeli government that led to the 1993 Oslo Accord. A street party catered by local restaurants will follow. “The Oslo Diaries” also screens at CinéArts in Palo Alto and at the Castro.

Emphasizing the importance of a free press, the Freedom of Expression Award will go this year to Jewish American documentarian Liz Garbus.

Garbus launched her career with a gritty examination of prison life in “The Farm: Angola, USA” in 1998. She explored the First Amendment with her 2009 documentary about her father, the attorney Martin Garbus, in “Shouting Fire: Stories From the Edge of Free Speech.”

The award will be presented at the Castro on July 26 followed by the screening of her latest film, “The Fourth Estate,” which follows the journalists of the New York Times as they cover the Donald Trump presidency. The festival program describes the film as “a fascinating cinema verité look inside one of American journalism’s veteran bastions against fake news.” “Fourth Estate” shows again at the Albany Twin on Aug. 1.

The 38th festival program includes several thematic focal points.

In the wake of the Time’s Up movement of the past year, “Hands On/Hands Off: Anatomy of a Feminist Film Movement” offers two contemporary documentaries, “Netizens” and “Roll Red Roll,” plus a classic feature, “Baby Face,” that frame activist responses to sexual harassment through the powerful medium of film.

“Black•ish/Jew•ish” spotlights personal and cultural narratives that question attitudes, relationships and stereotypes in regard to racial and cultural identities. “Blue Note Records: Beyond the Notes” is a documentary about the interplay of African-American and Jewish figures behind the iconic jazz label, while “Satan & Adam” traces a longstanding friendship between a Jewish harmonica player and a black busker from Harlem who form a blues duo. “Crossroads” tells the tale of a Jewish lacrosse coach and his African-American team at a North Carolina charter school. The documentary “Sammy Davis, Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me” is the closing-night film in San Rafael, presented in partnership with the Museum of the African Diaspora.

A trio of films covering historical subjects from the 1920s to the 1980s will explore the theme “Bless My Homeland Forever: Austria’s Sordid Past.”

In addition to “The City Without Jews,” two other films also visit the dark side of Austria’s history. “Murer–Anatomy of a Trial” is a courtroom drama based on the trial of Franz Murer, the Austrian SS officer in charge of the Vilna Ghetto, where he became known as “the Butcher of Vilnius.” He served seven years in a Soviet labor camp before the Austrian postwar government secured his release. “The Waldheim Waltz” is a documentary that examines former U.N. Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim’s 1986 election to the Austrian presidency, despite the revelations of his Nazi past.

The SFJFF usually shows films to illuminate some aspect of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “Naila and the Uprising” is about the activism of Palestinian — and some Israeli — women in response to the occupation. “Wajib,” a 2017 Palestinian feature, explores the conflict through the eyes of two generations of Palestinians. “The Man Who Stole Banksy” is an Italian documentary about the impact of the street artist’s paintings on the security barrier between Israel and the West Bank.

The large number of quality documentaries in the lineup may reflect the fact that SFJFF is now an Academy Award-qualifying festival in the documentary (short subject) category. The film that receives the juried best short documentary award in the festival will be eligible to be nominated for an Oscar in that category.

In the local spotlight, “Chasing Portraits” is first-time Bay Area filmmaker Elizabeth Rynecki’s documentary about her quest to locate her Polish-Jewish great-grandfather’s artwork, which disappeared after his deportation to the Warsaw Ghetto and then Majdanek concentration camp.

Festival passes and ticket packages are on sale now to the public, while individual ticket sales start at 10 a.m. Thursday, June 21. Buy tickets and passes here.

Laura Pall
Laura Paull

Laura Paull is J.'s former culture editor.