33rd S.F. Jewish Film Festival: Challenging, entertaining cinema from around the world

How “ish” are you anyway?

That is the question posed by the 33rd annual San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, whose theme is “Life Through a Jew(ish) Lens.”

The slogan reflects what festival executive director Lexi Leban calls “an ever-evolving notion of Jewishness. We’re excited to have a lineup that reflects that.”

This year’s festival, which runs from July 25 to Aug. 12, has been beefed up by 30 percent over last year’s, with 74 films from 26 countries. To handle the load, the festival now has nine venues, including three new ones in the East Bay: the California Theatre in Berkeley from Aug. 2 to 8, and the Grand Lake Theater (Aug. 9-11) and the New Parkway Theater (Aug. 2) in Oakland.

Topics range from Rastafarian infatuation with Judaism (“Awake Zion”) to abortion rights (“After Tiller”); from Arab-Jewish coexistence in Israel (“Dancing in Jaffa”) to Johnny Cash’s Jewish connection (“My Father and the Man in Black”).

Some films are intimate and personal family dramas (“Rue Mandar,” “Sleeping with the Fishes”). Some are quirky comedies (“My Awkward Sexual Adventure”). Others are powerful documentaries (“American Commune,” “Gideon’s Army”).

Still others are kids’ favorites brought back in revival. Festival fans had urged Leban to make the event more family-friendly, so she did, programming the animated classic “American Tail” and “Annie” and the opening night film, “The Zigzag Kid,” about a 13-year-old Belgian lad with a knack for trouble, on the eve of his bar mitzvah.

Organizers have always sought to make the festival as interactive as possible, inviting filmmakers and actors to attend screenings and speak with audiences afterward. One noteworthy appearance will be actor-filmmaker Alex Karpovsky, who co-stars in the hit HBO series “Girls.” After screening some of his short films, Karpovsky will speak July 27 at the Castro Theatre.

Documentarian Alan Berliner will visit the Castro on July 29 to accept the festival’s 2013 Freedom of Expression Award, after which his new film “First Cousin Once Removed” will be screened.

A lengthy list of other notable special events includes a Q&A with the directors of “Awake Zion” at the Grand Lake Theater on Aug. 9, followed by a live dub/reggae program exploring the musical connections between Rastafarians and Jews.

Our cover package offers a sampler of cinematic delights at the 2013 festival.

Plenty outlandish. Flavored with Yiddish. Not terribly goyish. It’s all about the Jew(ish) at this year’s film festival.


San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, July 25-Aug.12. www.sfjff.org



Israelis in Tehran, before the revolution

‘American Commune’ takes a trip down memory lane

An offbeat Israeli love story


on the cover
From “The Zigzag Kid”