A scene from "SHTTL," which will be screened at both the East Bay International Jewish Film Festival and the Jewish Film Institute's WinterFest.
A scene from "SHTTL," which will be screened at both the East Bay International Jewish Film Festival and the Jewish Film Institute's WinterFest.

East Bay Jewish film fest and JFI’s WinterFest bring dozens of movies to Bay Area

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Jewish cinema buffs across the Bay Area, rejoice: February and March bring not one but two Jewish film festivals, with more than two dozen domestic and international films to see in theaters or stream at home.

WinterFest, presented by the S.F.-based Jewish Film Institute, will take place Feb. 25 and 26 at the Vogue Theater in San Francisco. Meanwhile, East Bay International Jewish Film Festival (EBIJFF) will be held Feb. 25 to March 2 at the Century 16 in Pleasant Hill, and March 23 and 26 at the Vine Cinema & Alehouse in Livermore. Most of the EBIJFF films can also be streamed at home during the virtual part of the festival, which runs March 11 to 24.

At WinterFest, “Do I Need This?” a documentary about American consumerism by San Francisco filmmaker Kate Schermerhorn, will receive its Bay Area premiere on Feb. 25. “This timely, humorous and moving film delicately interweaves the filmmaker’s complicated relationship to her family possessions, together with a journey into the homes and minds of her fellow Americans, from a hoarder to a Buddhist monk and a colorful group of characters in between,” JFI said in a press release.

The documentary will be shown with “Brother,” a 15-minute animated short by local filmmaker Joanna Rudnick. It includes recordings of phone conversations she had with her brother, Matt, while he was in recovery from opioid addiction. He died of an overdose in 2020.

On Feb. 26, San Francisco director Steven Pressman will participate in a Q&A following the screening of “The Levys of Monticello,” his 2022 documentary about the Jewish family that owned and preserved Thomas Jeffersons’s Virginia estate after he died.

The other titles in the nine-film lineup are “A House Made of Splinters,” an Oscar-nominated documentary about a group home for foster children in Ukraine; “Barren,” an Israeli drama that shines a light on sexual violence in Haredi communities; “The Camera of Doctor Morris,” an Israeli documentary about an idiosyncratic British family living in Eilat, Israel; “The Forger,” a drama based on the true story of a Jewish document counterfeiter in 1940s Germany; “Other People’s Children,” a French comedy-drama about a school teacher in her 40s who is exploring the possibility of having a child; and “SHTTL,” a Yiddish-language drama about Jewish life in a fictional shtetl in Ukraine during World War II.

The EBIJFF will present 21 narrative films and documentaries from around the world at the theaters in Pleasant Hill and Livermore, with additional films available to stream.

The festival opens on Feb. 25 with “Only in Theaters,” a documentary about the family that runs Laemmle Theatres, a beloved art-house cinema chain in Los Angeles. Greg Laemmle, the company’s president and a descendant of Universal Pictures co-founder Carl Laemmle, will attend the screening and answer questions afterward. (As its title suggests, this film is not available to stream.)

As part of the festival’s “In Conversation” series of pre-recorded talks, San Francisco State University professor Eran Kaplan will discuss two Israeli films that will be screened during the festival: “Karaoke,” a drama starring Lior Ashkenazi, Rita Shukrun and Sasson Gabay, and “Perfect Strangers,” a comedy directed by Ashkenazi.

Jake Marmer, a Ukrainian-born poet and former dean of Jewish Studies at Kehillah Jewish High School in Palo Alto, will speak about “SHTTL” and “Carol of the Bells,” another WWII drama about three families — one Polish, one Ukrainian, one Jewish — living together in a house in Poland.

The EBIJFF lineup also includes “Dream Girl: The Making of Marilyn Monroe,” a biopic of the iconic actress who converted to Judaism after marrying playwright Arthur Miller; “iMordecai,” which stars Academy Award–nominated actor Judd Hirsch (“The Fabelmans”) as a Miami retiree whose life opens up after he gets an iPhone; “Where Life Begins,” a romance between a French Haredi woman who travels to Italy to participate in the citron harvest ahead of Sukkot and falls in love with an Italian farmer; “The Accusation,” a French legal drama about a young man accused of rape; and “Valiant Hearts,” a drama set in 1942 about six French Jewish children who hide from the Nazis in the Château de Chambord. See the full lineup at eastbayjewishfilm.org/ebijff-2023.

WinterFest, Feb. 25-26 at Vogue Theater, 3290 Sacramento St., S.F. $18 per film, $15 for JFI members. Passes are $120 general, $95 members. East Bay International Jewish Film Festival, Feb. 25-March 2 at the Century 16, 125 Crescent Drive, Pleasant Hill; March 23 and 26 at the Vine Cinema & Alehouse, 1722 First St., Livermore; virtual screenings March 11 to 24 on Eventive. In-person: $14 per film, $11 for screenings before 2 p.m., $150 passes. Virtual: $12.50 per film, $195 passes.

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. Follow him on Twitter @esensten.