East Bay film festival goes independent with March run

The East Bay International Jewish Film Festival, launched by the Contra Costa JCC and a longtime program of the East Bay’s Jewish federation, has struck out on its own and is ready for its close-up as an independent entity.

The 21st edition of the festival runs March 5-13 at the Century 16 Theatres in Pleasant Hill. Over nine days, the festival will screen dozens of Jewish-themed films from around the world.

Riva Gambert

Riva Gambert, who worked at the Jewish Federation of the East Bay in multiple roles for 35 years, will serve as director. The festival, she says, will include “about the same number of films” as in previous years. “It was very important that we continue with the same quality of films we’ve had the past two decades.”

Highlights include the March 5 opening night offering, “Labyrinth of Lies,” a German film about bringing a former Auschwitz commander to justice. German Consul General Stefan Schlueter will be on hand for a post-screening Q&A.

Other key titles include the intense family drama “Baba Joon,” Israel’s first full-length feature in Farsi, and “Remember,” a poignant Holocaust survivor story starring Christopher Plummer and Martin Landau.

One innovation this year is the festival’s partnering with the Berkeley-based adult Jewish learning center Lehrhaus Judaica. Scholars affiliated with Lehrhaus will serve as after-screening speakers, offering added context and history. They include Judaic scholar Nitzhia Shaked, Building Jewish Bridges director Dawn Kepler and Elaine Guarnieri-Nunn, area director of Facing History and Ourselves. She will speak after “The Experimenter,” a drama about Stanley Milgram’s famous obedience experiments at Yale University in the 1960s.

As an independent nonprofit, the festival had to seek out new sponsors and supporters, which now include the city of Pleasant Hill and the Pleasant Hill Chamber of Commerce, as well as several area merchants.

“The city of Pleasant Hill is a very enthusiastic sponsor,” Gambert says. “They have a beautiful downtown area, and they want to encourage people to visit and explore, and they want more culture. We’ve gotten a warm embrace.”

In recent years, some Bay Area Jewish cultural institutions, from Traveling Jewish Theatre to Israel in the Gardens, have gone under for various reasons, usually because of finances. Gambert wanted to make sure the film festival would not become another casualty.

“I can’t predict whether movies will eventually be screened on watches on people’s wrists,” she says. “I don’t think that’s the way to see a film. But considering the very warm reception toward our newly independent organization, I’m optimistic we’re going to be here in Contra Costa County and the Tri-Valley area for a long time to come.”

The 21st East Bay International Jewish Film Festival March 5-13 at Century 16 Theatres, 125 Crescent Drive at Monument Boulevard, Pleasant Hill. www.eastbayjewishfilm.org

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is J.'s news editor. He can be reached at dan@jweekly.com.