After two years away from its longtime home at the Castro Theatre, the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival is back for a full program of in-person screenings, though there will be several days of virtual screenings as well. (Photo/David A.M. Wilensky)
After two years away from its longtime home at the Castro Theatre, the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival is back for a full program of in-person screenings, though there will be several days of virtual screenings as well. (Photo/David A.M. Wilensky)

At S.F. Jewish Film Fest opening night, we’re all just happy to be back at the Castro

A giddy crowd of over 600 gathered last night at the Castro Theatre for the first full-fledged in-person installment of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival since 2019. Knife-like winds as people lined up outside couldn’t blow away the high spirits of those who look forward to the film fest every year.

 

People schmoozed and embraced old friends as they settled in with their popcorn — and print copies of J.’s film fest issue. First up was a run-through of some of the best of the film fest’s in-house promo short films over the years — concluding with this year’s, in which a couple humorously, and relatably, grapples with going out to a movie with other people for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic. (Of course, they end up at an SFJFF screening at the Albany Twin, where the East Bay portion of the festival kicks off next week. The video embedded below is a version of the one that showed last night.)

In her opening remarks, Jewish Film Institute executive director Lexi Leban was visibly excited to be back in the grand surrounds of the Castro Theatre. Moshe Rosenthal, director of the opening night film, “Karaoke,” said in his introduction to the film that he had been to the Castro before, but never dreamed that a movie of his would be shown there.


The film was received warmly by the crowd, who were treated to a live Q&A with Rosenthal and one of the film’s stars, Lior Ashkenazi, familiar to longtime viewers of Israeli cinema from hits like “Walk on Water” and “Footnote.”

At the outdoor afterparty at the Randall Museum, festival goers mingled with filmmakers as attendees circulated between tables stocked with wine, cookies and hummus. Ashkenazi stationed himself by a large vat of fresh hummus (from Pomella) near the entrance to the party and held court there.

In an interview with J. — over the vat of hummus — Ashkenazi recalled having a good time in San Francisco about 10 years ago when he was here promoting a previous film. He’s here until Sunday, and he’s got big plans: “I made the tourist tour the first time, but I’ve never been to Alcatraz,” he said. “So Moshe and I, we’re going to Alcatraz.”

Ashkenazi, who has already seen some of the Israeli films in the festival, especially recommended (of course) his own feature-length directorial debut, “Perfect Strangers,” which shows tonight at 8:35 p.m. at the Castro and July 27 at 1 p.m. at the Albany Twin. And he put in a plug for the festival’s closing-night film, “Let It Be Morning”: “It’s a very good movie.”

The San Francisco Jewish Film Festival continues through Aug. 7 with screenings in San Francisco, Albany and online. This reporter will be doing a live Q&A with Tom Weidlinger on July 29 after the screening of his film “The Restless Hungarian.”

J. The Jewish News of Northern California is a media sponsor of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival. Check out our full coverage here.

David A.M. Wilensky
David A.M. Wilensky

David A.M. Wilensky is interim associate editor of J. He previously served as assistant editor and digital editor. He can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @davidamwilensky