Israeli actress Dana Ivgy as Rona, who leads a film workshop for Jewish and Arab women in "Cinema Sabaya."
Israeli actress Dana Ivgy as Rona, who leads a film workshop for Jewish and Arab women in "Cinema Sabaya."

WinterFest presents films on Joyce Carol Oates, “Fiddler on the Roof,” the Tree of Life attack and more

The S.F.-based Jewish Film Institute will present an eclectic mix of 11 films — including documentaries on American author and provocative Twitter personality Joyce Carol Oates, on Israeli literary giant Amos Oz and on the making of the 1971 musical “Fiddler on the Roof” — at its ninth annual WinterFest.

Most of the films will be available to stream in JFI’s online screening room from Feb. 26 to March 6. They will be accompanied by recorded Q&A sessions with the filmmakers, actors or subject-matter experts. Tickets to individual screenings cost $11 and up; festival passes cost $75 and up.

“From remarkable nonfiction stories to ‘can’t-look-away’ narratives, this year’s diverse and eclectic WinterFest lineup invites communities in the Bay Area and beyond to dive deep into tales that entertain, challenge, educate, and delight us,” Jay Rosenblatt, JFI’s program director, said in a press release.

Earlier this month, Rosenblatt’s 2021 documentary, “When We Were Bullies,” was nominated for an Academy Award. That film, which is not part of WinterFest, can be seen at the Roxie in San Francisco and the Rafael in San Rafael beginning Feb. 25.

The festival’s opening night film is “The Survivor,” directed by Academy Award–winner Barry Levinson. The drama tells the true story of Harry Haft (Ben Foster), a Polish man who survived Auschwitz by fighting other inmates for the entertainment of Nazi officers and later became a professional boxer. WinterFest is screening the film before its premiere on HBO on April 27, Yom HaShoah. The closing night selection is “Fiddler’s Journey to the Big Screen,” a 2022 documentary that focuses on the movie’s director, Norman Jewison. The 50th anniversary of the release of Jewison’s “Fiddler” adaptation was celebrated last fall in the Jewish press. (Although they are referred to as opening and closing night films, both “The Survivor” and “Fiddler’s Journey to the Big Screen” can be viewed anytime during the festival’s run.)

“Rose,” a French drama about a 78-year-old woman (Françoise Fabian) who struggles to adjust to life as a widow, is the centerpiece narrative film. The centerpiece documentary, “Joyce Carol Oates: A Body in the Service of Mind,” is an intimate portrait of the 83-year-old writer and 2019 Jerusalem Prize winner by a friend of hers, Swedish documentarian Stig Björkman.

The other films are “The Automat,” a documentary about the East Coast restaurant chain Horn & Hardart; “Cinema Sabaya,” a drama featuring nine Jewish and Arab women who participate in a filmmaking workshop in Hadera, Israel and who are portrayed by both veteran and first-time actors; “The Fourth Window,” a portrait of Israeli writer Amos Oz, the author of the memoir “A Tale of Love and Darkness” (which was turned into a 2015 film starring Natalie Portman), among other works, and a longtime proponent of the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; “Three Minutes: A Lengthening,” an examination of three minutes of amateur footage of Polish Jews captured by an American tourist in 1938; and “A Tree of Life,” a documentary about the 2018 attack by a white supremacist on Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue during Shabbat morning services. In addition, there will be a sneak-peak showing of the first part of a forthcoming HBO documentary on actress and activist Evan Rachel Wood called “Phoenix Rising.”

“Her Dance,” a 22-minute film about a young, trans, Israeli woman who crashes her Orthodox sister’s pre-wedding Shabbat celebration, will be screened in person at the Jewish Community Center of the East Bay at 1 p.m. March 6. Director Bar Cohen will participate in a live Q&A on Zoom. Admission is free with RSVP; masks and proof of vaccination are required for entry.

WinterFest. Feb. 26 to March 6. $11-$16 per film, $105 festival passes are $30 off for JFI members. Some films cannot be streamed outside of the Bay Area.

Andrew Esensten
Andrew Esensten

Andrew Esensten is the culture editor of J. Previously, he was a staff writer for the English-language edition of Haaretz based in Tel Aviv.