S.F. Jewish Film Fest chock full of premieres, from Bay Area and abroad

It’s summer. “Game of Thrones” just wrapped for the season. It’s time to freeze the Netflix account and plan for the 34th annual San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.

Always one of the biggest deals on the Bay Area Jewish calendar, the 2014 festival runs July 24 through Aug. 10 at multiple locations in San Francisco and across the Bay Area. Organizers assembled a lineup that includes 70 films from 18 countries, with eight world premieres.

Scene from “Run Boy Run” photos/courtesy sfjff

For opening night at San Francisco’s Castro Theatre, the festival scheduled “The Green Prince,” a  German-Israel-British production that tells the tense, true story of a Hamas operative who spies for Israel.

Unlike seasons past, the festival will offer two Centerpiece films this year: one a documentary, the other a narrative. The first, “Watchers of the Sky,” is the documentary, telling the story of Polish Jewish lawyer and human rights activist Raphael Lemkin (1900-1959), the man who coined the term “genocide,” and who fought it all his life. It will make its California premiere July 28.

The other, “Run Boy Run,” is a dystopian Holocaust tale told through the eyes of an 8-year-old orphan evading the Nazis in the Polish countryside. It will make its Northern California premiere July 29, also at the Castro.

For closing night, Aug. 7, the festival booked the world premiere of “Little White Lie,” an American documentary about Judaism, race and identity.

In between, organizers promise a feast of cinematic treats, including comedies, dramas, documentaries, short films, animation, TV series and a few surprises.

Among them is an unusually high number of documentaries by Bay Area filmmakers. They include “Havana Curveball,” by directors Marcia Jarmel and Ken Schneider. It’s about their 13-year-old tzedakah-minded son’s determination to bring baseball equipment to kids in Cuba.

Abby Ginzberg’s “Soft Vengeance: Albie Sachs and the New South Africa” chronicles the work of a renowned Jewish anti-apartheid activist, while “In the Image,” by  Judith Montell and Emmy Scharlatt, follows the work of the controversial Israeli nongovernmental organization B’Tselem, which tracks human rights abuses in Israel.

This year’s recipient of the Freedom of Expression Award is the actor, singer and raconteur Theodore Bikel. He’ll be in town for the screening of his new film, “Theodore Bikel: In the Shoes of Sholem Aleichem.” The 90-year-old star will accept the award July 27.

One of the favorite traditions to come of the festival in recent years is the Berkeley Big Night, which mixes cinema with mixology in the East Bay. It takes place Aug. 2 at the Courtyard, the new watering hole at  Berkeley Repertory Theatre, followed by a screening of “The Sturgeon Queens,” a documentary about one of New York’s oldest Jewish fish shops.

Also notable: “Funeral at Noon,” an Israeli psychological thriller making its North American premiere July 30 at the Castro; a fully restored (and subtitled) version of the 1938 Yiddish-language classic “Mamele,” starring Molly Picon; and the Spotlight film “A Place in Heaven,” about a war-weary Israeli soldier.

Festival attendees will appreciate the expanded schedule at the Castro Theatre, plus screenings at theaters in Berkeley, Oakland, San Rafael, Palo Alto and of course, San Francisco. For more information, go to

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is J.'s news editor. He can be reached at