Canadian actor and comic Howie Mandel in the new documentary “Howie Mandel: But, Enough About Me.” (Photo/Courtesy JFI)
Canadian actor and comic Howie Mandel in the new documentary “Howie Mandel: But, Enough About Me.” (Photo/Courtesy JFI)

Jewish Film Institute marks 40th anniversary with 8 nights of films for Hanukkah

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The Jewish Film Institute, the S.F.-based entity that wasn’t able to present its annual San Francisco Jewish Film Festival this past summer due to the pandemic, has devised a special program to mark its 40th anniversary and light up your personal screen with Jewish films for Hanukkah.

From Dec. 10 to 17, JFI will be presenting what it has deemed “eight days of illuminating programs” — including a drive-in movie in San Francisco on opening night, online screenings, a panel and an event for the anniversary.

“Audiences will come together to honor four decades of independent vision,” the JFI said in a statement. In addition to films, the event will be “a celebration that will recognize SFJFF’s enduring history, our supporters and the vibrancy of our community. So let’s raise a glass and light a candle to 40 years of bringing Jewish storytelling to light.”

Things will kick off Dec. 10 at 6 p.m. at the Fort Mason Flix pop-up drive-in with the U.S. premiere of Howie Mandel: But, Enough About Me, about the Canadian comedian and actor. The 88-minute film examines Mandel’s life and career, as well as his painful struggles with mental illness. A special JFI interview with Mandel and director Barry Avrich will follow the film.

Tickets are $40 per vehicle for JFI members and $45 for the public, and many Covid-19 protocols will be in effect. Off the Grid will provide food truck options, JFI said, with details to come.

The other films in the 40th anniversary Hanukkah celebration will be available for streaming throughout the festival, most of them followed by a recorded interview with the director and/or principal actor. All are either 2019 or 2020 releases. Here’s a look at the lineup:

“When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit” is a sweeping, two-hour German drama about the rise of Nazism as seen through the eyes of a 9-year-old-girl in Europe. It’s the latest from Caroline Link, director of “Nowhere in Africa,” winner of the best international feature Oscar in 2003.

“Born in Jerusalem and Still Alive” is the festival’s Next Wave Spotlight film, an Israeli comedy selected for its appeal to young adults. Co-directors David Ofek and Yossi Atia, who also stars, find an absurdist angle on the social tensions and political violence of Israel 20 to 30 years ago.

“Sublet” is a romantic drama from Israel that’s been an audience favorite at other Jewish film festivals this year. Directed by Eytan Fox, it tells the story of an American travel writer who goes to Tel Aviv and is drawn into a relationship with a young film student.

“Oliver Sacks: His Own Life,” directed by Ric Burns, explores the life and work of a legendary neurologist and storyteller who had battles with drug addiction, homophobia and the medical establishment.

“Film About a Father Who” is a documentary by Lynne Sachs, who attempts to understand child-to-parent and sibling-to-sibling connections by using interviews, home movies and archival images to probe the personality of her bon vivant father, Ira Sachs Sr., over a period of 35 years.

“A Crime on the Bayou” is a gripping documentary by Nancy Buirski that recounts the true story of a Jewish lawyer who, in 1966 New Orleans, tirelessly pursued justice for a Black teenager wrongfully accused  of assault.

Also in the lineup is “Jews in Shorts,” a program of four shorter documentaries from both the U.S. and Israel.

Another free event that can be accessed online at any time during the festival is a virtual panel called “Engines of Truth.” Jewish filmmakers Amy Ziering, Bonni Cohen, Judith Helfand and Roberta Grossman will converse about how various factors — such as Jewish values, identity, culture and feminism — have figured into their groundbreaking documentaries.

The event to celebrate the SFJFF’s 40th anniversary will take place online at 6 p.m. Dec. 12, with guests and remembrances from four decades of Jewish cinema and culture, plus film clips and trailers. This event is free, with a suggested donation.

“This year has made crystal clear to us that community, art and film have the ability to bring light and hope in challenging times,” Lexi Leban, JFI’s executive director, said in a release. “We are not going anywhere and we plan to be around for the next 40 years.”

“JFI 40th Anniversary Hanukkah Celebration”

Dec. 10-17. $10-$15 per online film, $40-$70 for festival online passes. All proceeds support the ongoing work of JFI. For more information, visit, email [email protected] or call (415) 621-0568 weekdays 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Laura Pall
Laura Paull

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