"Sammy Davis Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me" will be the closing film in the 2018 Sonoma County Jewish Film Festival
"Sammy Davis Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me" will be the closing film in the 2018 Sonoma County Jewish Film Festival

From autism to Sammy Davis Jr., 6 weeks of film in Sonoma

The 23rd annual Sonoma County Jewish Film Festival kicks off Tuesday, Oct. 9, with “The Last Suit,” a touching Argentine drama about a Polish Holocaust survivor who has lived since the end of the war in Buenos Aires and discovers a reason, at the end of his life, to go back to Poland. Winner of three audience awards, the Spanish-language film with English subtitles is described as a life-affirming, “bittersweet road movie.”

The Sonoma festival, unlike many others, has a weekly schedule, screening films at both 1 and 7 p.m. on six Tuesdays through Nov. 27. All screenings are at Rialto Cinemas in Sebastopol, with dinner options available at the theater before the evening shows.

“Keep the Change,” playing on Oct. 16, is a humorous love story between two adults with autism who meet in a support group at the JCC in Manhattan. An interesting twist on the romantic-comedy formula, the film offers a rare look into an underrepresented community. A panel discussion on living with autism will follow the evening show. The film won two awards at the Tribeca Film Festival.

The Oct. 23 screening is the Italian feature “Let Yourself Go,” about a Jewish Freudian psychoanalyst with an apartment on the same floor as that of his ex-wife. A chance meeting with a young, single personal trainer raises the possibility of a new lease on life for the middle-age therapist. The 2017 film won the Italian golden globe for best comedy.

“Who Will Write Our History,” a docudrama about the secret effort of Polish Jews to preserve evidence of their real experiences inside the Warsaw Ghetto, received the best documentary feature audience award at this summer’s San Francisco Jewish Film Festival. It screens on Oct. 30. This moving tribute to the courage and ingenuity of Jews imprisoned in the ghetto mixes archival materials with new interviews, rarely seen footage and dramatizations. It tells the story of the group’s heroes and their fight to defeat Nazi lies and propaganda with the ultimate weapon — the truth. A Q&A with the film’s director, Roberta Grossman, will follow both screenings.

In the Israeli espionage thriller “Shelter,” playing Nov. 13, two women — a Mossad agent and a Lebanese informant — are stuck together in a safe house in Germany while terrorists are looking to kill them. Despite their very different backgrounds, an unlikely relationship develops, but it is soon threatened by the terror engulfing their separate worlds as their respective beliefs are questioned and loyalties tested. Nominated for two Ophir awards in Israel, the film is in English/Hebrew/German with English subtitles.

Skipping Thanksgiving weekend, the festival concludes Nov. 27 with “Sammy Davis Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me,” about the successful entertainer with a complex personal history. Black, Jewish and mainstream, Davis was gifted, controversial and iconic, forever trying to balance his personal ideals with cultural and societal pressures. “I’ve Gotta Be Me” offers new photographs, interviews with friends and contemporaries and performance clips to explore the life of this multifaceted artist. The film has won seven audience awards for best documentary.

Advance tickets are recommended, as many shows sell out. A more economical all-festival pass is also available. Rialto Cinemas is located at 6868 McKinley St. in Sebastopol. For tickets and additional information, call (707) 528-4222 or go to jccsoco.org/2018jff.