Months ago the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival booked “In the Image,” a documentary that depicts Israeli soldiers abusing West Bank Palestinians. Who knew the screenings at this year’s festival would coincide with the war between Israel and Hamas?
If the timing seems inappropriate to some in the pro-Israel camp, the Berkeley-based filmmakers feel otherwise.
“I think Israel is facing a hard time right now with the rockets and pressure from the world,” said Judy Montell, co-director of “In the Image,” which made its world premiere this week in the festival. “But my heart really goes out to the people in Gaza and the West Bank, who have been suffering for years.”
Footage in the film includes images of an Israeli soldier kicking a prostrate Palestinian child. In another scene, a soldier shoots a blindfolded arrestee in the leg point blank. Another soldier, seemingly unprovoked, points his rifle at the head of an unarmed Arab civilian.
It was all captured on video by Palestinian women in the West Bank, armed with cameras supplied by the Jerusalem-based organization B’Tselem for its Camera Project. The 7-year-old project gives video equipment and training to Palestinians living in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.
“In the Image,” directed by Montell and Emmy Scharlatt, both Jewish and both residents of Berkeley, played July 30 at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco and has one additional festival screening, at 4:45 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 3 at the California Theatre in Berkeley.
“We realized that [the Palestinians] are the invisible others,” says Montell, a member of Kehilla Community Synagogue in Piedmont. “Nobody knows about them. We felt if people knew who they were, could see their faces and what they wanted, that it might open up the conversation.”
Montell will take part in a Q&A in the California Theatre after the film, then head across the street for a discussion sponsored by her synagogue at the Marsh Arts Center.
Gaining entrée into the world of West Bank Palestinians wasn’t hard for the filmmakers. Montell’s daughter, Jessie Montell, was for 12 years the executive director of B’Tselem, a nonprofit that works to improve the lives of minorities in Israel and the Palestinian territories.
Jessie Montell made available all Camera Project archives and introduced her mother and Scharlatt to the participating families.
From there the filmmakers began collecting video and stories in towns such as Hebron, where tensions run high. The film intercuts moments of harassment filmed by the Palestinian women with scenes of them talking in their homes, opening up about their lives.
Montell and Scharlatt adopt the point of view of sympathy toward Palestinians and disdain toward Israeli soldiers and Jewish settlers.
The film makes no attempt to explain the Israeli soldiers’ behavior in the videos, or what led up to those moments, nor does it ever show them doing anything helpful for Arab residents. It selectively paints a portrait of an occupying army that seems to enjoy cruelty.
On the festival’s website for the film, one user wrote in a comment: “The SFJFF is once again screening pro-Palestinian propaganda, edited to place Israeli Jews in a bad light. This film will get plenty of showings amongst the pro-Palestinian minion, and such unseemly propaganda has no place in a Jewish film festival. Especially at a time of war when Israelis are at risk of being struck by Palestinian missiles or murdered via tunnels built by Hamas, the screening of this film by SFJFF does a great disservice both to Israel and our community.”
One-sided though the film is, its creators say they are not anti-Israel.
“My daughter is there,” says Montell. “My grandchildren are there. I visit yearly. I just want Israel to be as good as it can be.”
With the war in Gaza, the filmmakers hope filmgoers will perceive their good intentions.
“This film tries to deal with humanity and human rights,” Montell says. “Yes, there are people who will say we only have to support our own, our family, but I think the issue is bigger than that.”
Scharlatt, a 32-year film industry veteran who in 2008 co-produced the short “Four Questions for a Rabbi” (co-directed by Jay Rosenblatt, program director of the SFJFF), is making her directorial debut with “In the Image.” She hopes viewers will come away from it with a better sense of the Palestinians and the Israeli Jews who care about human rights.
“I hope they can see there is good on both sides,” she says, “that we’re all caring, loving people. Just because someone else’s belief is different from your own doesn’t mean they’re not a good person. Both sides are struggling for a better Israel, a better Palestine.”
“In the Image,” San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, 4:45 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 3 at California Theatre, 2113 Kittredge St., Berkeley. Q&A with co-director Judy Montell. In English, Arabic and Hebrew, with English subtitles. (57 minutes). Preceded by Israeli short “Mirror Image.” www.sfjff.org
Big crowd, nice surprise get festival off to a rousing start
A crowd of 1,124 attended the July 24 opening night of the 34th annual San Francisco Jewish Film Festival at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco, according to festival officials. The 800-seat mezzanine was virtually packed, and the 600-seat balcony was about half full.
A party followed at the Contemporary Jewish Museum.
This year’s opening night film was “The Green Prince,” and the screening included a surprise — appearances by the two men featured in the high-energy documentary, Mosab Hassan Yousef and Gonen Ben Yitzhak.
Both took part in a Q&A session after the final credits rolled. Along with Israeli director Nadav Schirman, they fielded questions from appreciative audience members about the current war in Gaza, the motivations for making the film and what has happened in the aftermath.
Yousef, the son of a Hamas leader, spied for Israel for more than a decade in the early 2000s and wrote the memoir on which the film is based. Ben Yitzhak was his handler in the Shin Bet, Israel’s security agency.
“The Green Prince,” a gripping tale that the audience seemed to love, will screen again on Sunday, Aug. 3 at the California Theatre in Berkeley and on Aug. 8 at the Smith Rafael Film Center in San Rafael.
The film is one of 19 Israeli films that will show over the festival’s 18-day run through Aug. 10. Another one to check out is “Zero Motivation,” a biting comedy about women in the Israel Defense Forces that is playing only once, at 7:20 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 2 at the Castro.
On July 31 at the Castro, the festival’s Freedom of Expression Award was to be given to Theodore Bikel. The 90-year-old actor, most famous for his role on stage as Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof,” was expected to receive the award in person, after a screening of the documentary “Theodore Bikel: In the Shoes of Sholem Aleichem.” — abra cohen
San Francisco Jewish Film Festival listings
Films will be shown at the following theaters:
Castro Theatre, 429 Castro St., S.F.
CinèArts@Palo Alto Square, 3000 El Camino Real Palo Alto.
Rayko Photo Center,428 Third St., S.F.
California Theatre, 2113 Kittredge St., Berkeley.
Berkeley Repertory Theatre, 2025 Addison St., Berkeley.
New Parkway Theater, 474 24th St., Oakland.
Grand Lake Theater, 3200 Grand Ave., Oakland.
Smith Rafael Film Center, 1118 Fourth St., San Rafael.
“God’s Slave,” 12 p.m. “The Village of Peace,” 2 p.m. “Jews in Shorts” (documentaries), 4:10 p.m. “The Secret Life of Uri Geller,” 6:40 p.m. “Quality Balls: The David Steinberg Story,” 8:50 p.m. At Castro Theatre.
“Natan” with “Eden Rests,” 1:30 p.m. “Strip Life” with “Deserted,” 3:15 p.m. “Father and Son” with “Hollow Land,” 5:20 p.m. “Comedy Warriors,” 7 p.m. “Hanna’s Journey,” 8:50 p.m. At California Theatre.
“Little Horribles: An Evening with Amy Rubin,” 9 p.m. Rayko Photo Center.
“10%: What Makes a Hero?” 12 p.m. “Regarding Susan Sontag,” 2 p.m. “Mamele,” 4:40 p.m. “Zero Motivation,” 7:20 p.m. “Magic Men,” 9:30 p.m. At Castro Theatre.
“Vessel,” 12 p.m. “Holy Land,” 2 p.m. “A Life in Dirty Movies,” 4:25 p.m. “El Critico,” 6:50 p.m. “Arlo & Julie” with “A Knock on the Door,” 8:55 p.m. At California Theatre.
“The Sturgeon Queens” with “Salomea’s Nose,” 6:30 p.m. Berkeley Repertory Theatre. (Berkeley Big Night bash to follow.)
“The Sturgeon Queens” with “Salomea’s Nose,” 12:15 p.m. “Havana Curveball” with “Some Vacation,” 2:40 p.m. “El Critico,” 4:50 p.m. “Little White Lie” with “Little Horribles” (closing night), 7 p.m. At Castro Theatre. (Closing Night Reception to follow.)
“Regarding Susan Sontag,” 11:30 a.m. “Above and Beyond,” 2:15 p.m. “In the Image” with “Mirror Image,” 4:45 p.m. “The Green Prince,” 7 p.m. “Snails in the Rain,” 9:05 p.m. At California Theatre.
“Regina” with “Tzniut” (free), 2 p.m. “Mamele,” 4 p.m. “Little White Lie” with “Little Horribles,” 6:40 p.m. “Magic Men,” 8:55 p.m. At California Theatre.
“Funeral at Noon,” 2 p.m. “Jews in Shorts” (comedies), 4 p.m. “112 Weddings,” 6:15 p.m. “Jews in Shorts” (documentaries), 8:20 p.m. At California Theatre.
“Anywhere Else,” 1:45 p.m. “Life as a Rumor,” 3:45 p.m. “24 Days,” 6:20 p.m. “The Last Mentsch,” 8:45 p.m. At California Theatre.
“Shtisel,” 1:45 p.m. “Super Women,” 4:30 p.m. “Run Boy Run,” 6:30 p.m. “A Place in Heaven,” 8:55 p.m. At California Theatre.
“Little White Lie” with “Little Horribles,” 7 p.m. At New Parkway Theater.
“The Village of Peace,” 2:35 p.m. “My Own Man” 4:45 p.m. “God’s Slave,” 6:45 p.m. “Arabani,” 8:45 p.m. At Grand Lake Theater.
“Mamele,” 2:10 p.m. “Swim Little Fish Swim,”4:20 p.m. “The Green Prince,” 6:30 p.m. “24 Days,” 8:45 p.m. At Smith Rafael Film Center.
“10%: What Makes a Hero?” 12 p.m. “Touchdown Israel,” 2 p.m. “Watchers of the Sky,” 4:30 p.m. “For a Woman,” 7 p.m. “The Secret Life of Uri Geller,” 9:15 p.m. At Grand Lake Theater.
“My Own Man” 1 p.m. “Little White Lie” with “Little Horribles,” 3 p.m. “God’s Slave,” 4:45 p.m. “El Critico,” 6:50 p.m. “Comedy Warriors,” 8:55 p.m. At Smith Rafael Film Center.
“Havana Curveball” with “Some Vacation,” 12:15 p.m. “Brundibár,” 2:25 p.m. “Soft Vengeance: Albie Sachs and the New South Africa,” 4:25 p.m. “Transit,” 6:45 p.m. “Swim Little Fish Swim,” 8:55 p.m. At Grand Lake Theater.
“The Sturgeon Queens” with “Salomea’s Nose,” 12 p.m. “Touchdown Israel,” 1:45 p.m. “Watchers of the Sky,” 4:15 p.m. “Snails in the Rain,” 6:45 p.m. “A Place in Heaven,” 8:40 p.m. At Smith Rafael Film Center.
For more information, go to www.sfjff.org.