Still from "Promise at Dawn," one of 40 films at this year's East Bay International Jewish Film Festival
Still from "Promise at Dawn," one of 40 films at this year's East Bay International Jewish Film Festival

Jewishness of East Bay Jewish film fest picks ‘not always obvious’

The East Bay International Jewish Film Festival brings all the sophistication of global film programming to the comfort of modern cineplexes.

The March 2-10 festival, taking place in Livermore and Pleasant Hill, will offer 40 films from a dozen countries including the U.S., intended to appeal to a wide range of interests and diverse Jewish identities. Blessed are the retired, for they can see all of the films.

“What is Jewish about these films is not always obvious. This is no longer the day of making Jewish movies from Neil Simon plays,” said festival director Riva Gambert. “We have a very wide view of what Jewish film is: It can include anything from a film that touches on a Jewish character, as in ‘Toman,’ to a film about Zubin Mehta, who isn’t Jewish but is the conductor of the Israel Philharmonic. Our films are Jewish in a very expansive way. This reflects our community, which is not all Jewish and not all the same.”

Among the films returning to the lineup for the 24th annual festival are the compelling Dutch wartime drama “Riphagen” (an early showing Feb. 28 at the Vine Cinema & Alehouse in Livermore) and the Austrian documentary “The Waldheim Waltz” — a boon to those who missed the screenings at previous Bay Area festivals.

“Carl Laemmle,” an American biopic about the German Jewish immigrant who founded Universal Pictures, screens on March 4. It was shown earlier this month at the Jewish Film Institute’s WinterFest (see our review at tinyurl.com/j-carllaemmle).

But the festival also includes a few Bay Area premieres, including “Fig Tree,” a poignant drama by an Ethiopian Jewish woman, and “Stockholm,” an Israeli made-for-TV comedy.

The festival is bookended by two films that deal with the subject of marriage in disparate ways.

The opening-night film on March 2, the French romantic comedy “Monsieur et Madame Adelman,” traces the relationship of a celebrated French author and his brilliant Jewish wife, two individuals who are very different yet oddly complementary, united in their passion for writing. Their tale, at once funny and real, is relayed by the wife to a journalist immediately after the writer’s funeral.

“We know our audiences like something upbeat for opening night,” Gambert said, describing “Monsieur” as “charming, engaging and funny in a sophisticated way.”

On closing night, the more serious “Worlds Apart,” staring J.K. Simmons (“Whiplash,” “Juno”), follows the romantic entanglements of three individuals in the context of the recent wave of refugee immigration to Greece.

Another film in the program, “A Fortunate Man,” is at once a love story and a study of social class and cultures in Denmark during the Industrial Revolution, offering a window onto a lesser-known European Jewish community. It screens on March 5.

“This is not ‘Fiddler on the Roof,’” said Gambert. “There were Jewish communities in Western Europe that were prominent, successful and culturally assimilated, yet surrounded by anti-Semitism.”

On the fun side, the Century 16 Downtown in Pleasant Hill will open its doors at 1:30 p.m. March 9 for a free screening of “Captain America: The First Avenger” and at 4 p.m. for a documentary about the Marvel Comics creator, “With Great Power: The Stan Lee Story.”

The festival will also repeat last year’s practice of devoting a day to social justice films. On #StandUpSunday, March 10, seven films will focus on different aspects of prejudice, from anti-Semitism to racism to homophobia. The program kicks off with the Bay Area premiere of the Israeli feature film “Fractures,” which explores the impact on a professor’s life of an sexual harassment accusation. Other offerings include “A Fantastic Woman,” a Chilean feature about social attitudes toward transgender people that won last year’s Academy Award for best foreign-language film; “Across the Waters,” a Danish drama about the rescue of Danish Jews in World War II; and the documentary “Who Will Write Our History,” which opened to critical and audience acclaim at last summer’s San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.

Another drama being shown on #StandUpSunday, “The Unorthodox,” takes viewers back to 1983 Israel and the beginnings of the religious Shas party. It also screens the night before, on March 9.

“With the Israeli election coming up, it’s very relevant. Despite the serious subject, it is treated as a light drama with good music, humor and wonderful acting. We loved it,” Gambert said. “The selection committee didn’t agree on every film, but on this one, we did.”

East Bay International Jewish Film Festival. March 2-10 at Century 16 Downtown in Pleasant Hill and Vine Cinema & Alehouse in Livermore. For a complete schedule and ticket information, visit eastbayjewishfilm.org.

Laura Pall
Laura Paull

Laura Paull is J.'s Culture Editor, and was a longtime J. freelance writer before that.