The annual East Bay International Jewish Film Festival will return for its 26th year on April 10 with a virtual offering of 20 films over two weeks.
While in previous years it was fun for patrons to meet and greet at East Bay cinemas, there are some advantages to the first-time virtual format. (Last year’s festival started in February and ended just before the Bay Area went into shutdown mode.)
This year, rather than being locked into a rigid theater schedule, the festival is able to offer a rolling timetable with greater viewing flexibility. A new film, many with related talks or events, will “premiere” each day and will remain available for streaming for 72 hours. Once ticket buyers start the film, they will have 48 hours to finish it.
“As with the overwhelming majority of festivals in the United States, we decided months ago to go virtual,” festival director Riva Gambert said in a release. “Never before has our slogan ‘See a film, see the world’ been so meaningful and meant so much to people. Because most of us have limited our travel and have been social distancing since [March 2020], film and TV have expanded our ‘pods’ and our vistas.”
The EBIJFF lineup contains dramas, documentaries, and plenty of comedy and lighter fare, including foreign films not only from Israel but also from Norway, Italy and the Netherlands.
One high-profile film in the festival is “Asia,” a poignant mother-daughter drama starring “Unorthodox” star Shira Haas that won eight Israeli Ophir awards, including best picture, in the 12 categories in which it was nominated. Israel selected it as its entrant for best foreign film at the Academy Awards, though it was not one of the five films nominated.
“Thou Shalt Not Hate,” an Italian drama that screened recently in WinterFest from the S.F.-based Jewish Film Institute, powerfully explores antisemitism and anti-immigrant sentiment in contemporary Italy.
Underwritten by the East Bay Holocaust Education Center is the screening of “The Crossing,” which is about two Norwegian children during World War II who help transport a young Jewish brother and sister across the border to Sweden. While it is a serious story, gorgeously filmed, it is intended to convey the meaning of morality to audiences as young as middle-schoolers.
From Israel comes the eight-episode dramatic series “Muna,” about a 30-something Israeli Arab photographer with a Jewish boyfriend who is invited to display her work in Paris. Not surprisingly, she is hounded by both Arab and Jewish critics and also has to deal with family conflicts. It will be presented in a pair of four-episode blocks.
In the documentary category, “On Broadway” whisks us behind New York stage curtains to meet stars Helen Mirren, Viola Davis, Christine Baranski, James Corden, Mandy Patinkin, Lin-Manuel Miranda, John Lithgow, Hugh Jackman and Ian McKellen, who share their insights on the world of theater.
“A Lullaby for the Valley” paints an intimate portrait of Israeli artist Eli Shamir, who has dedicated his talent to capturing on canvas the disappearing landscape of the Jezreel Valley in Israel.
“Cured” is a documentary that examines activists’ struggles in the early 1970s to persuade the American Psychiatric Association to remove its classification of homosexuality as a mental illness.
Lighter fare in the lineup includes two double programs: “Kiss Me Kosher” and ”The Shabbos Goy” starting April 12, and the riotous U.S. film “Shiva Baby” and the Israeli dramatic short “Across the Line” starting April 16. “Across” is about a young, religious Jew who is trying to get home before the Sabbath begins, but is delayed when he picks up a Palestinian hitchhiker.
The festival will feature a number of events — with either a historian, author, filmmaker or other expert — that will take deeper looks at particular films; these events will be included in the ticket price.
Additionally, there are two stand-alone events that, although they are free, will require separate reservations.
On April 10, Neil Friedman, co-founder of Menemsha Films and one of the developers of ChaiFlicks, a streaming service bringing Jewish and Israeli films to U.S. viewers. will discuss the perennial question: What makes a film Jewish?
The recording of the live chat will be available through April 23, the final day of the festival.
On April 13, those who sign up will be able to virtually meet cast members from the hit Netflix show “Fauda,” an intense drama about an elite, anti-terrorist unit of the Israel Defense Forces. The live Zoom event is being hosted by the Jewish Federation of New Bedford, Massachusetts.
Tickets for individual films are $8 and go on sale starting March 25. Premiere passes for $180 and a limited number of $89 all-access passes are available; each has different features, though both come with free, early-bird reservations for any number of films in the lineup.
One important note is that all films will be geoblocked, meaning they won’t be available to viewers outside of Alameda, Contra Costa and Solano counties.