Scene from "The Picture of His Life," one of the movies screening at the 2019 San Francisco Jewish Film Festival
Scene from "The Picture of His Life," one of the movies screening at the 2019 San Francisco Jewish Film Festival

Tickets on sale for San Francisco Jewish Film Festival

You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll have your mind blown: Tickets go on sale to the public on June 20 for the 39th annual San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, the popular cinematic gathering of the Bay Area tribe. The festival opens on July 18 at the Castro Theatre and runs through Aug. 4 at venues in Palo Alto, San Rafael, Oakland and Albany.

The 18-day festival will present more than 65 films from 13 countries at 135 individual screenings, performances and ticketed events around the Bay. A community Shabbat dinner at San Francisco City Hall will inaugurate the first Friday, July 19, when the public can mingle with filmmakers, producers and actors from around the world.

On opening night, film lovers can line up outside the Castro with Karl the Fog to see the West Coast premiere of “Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles,” a rousing reminiscence of the making of the 1964 Broadway musical “Fiddler on the Roof” and its film version a few years later. The party will continue at the Contemporary Jewish Museum.

The San Francisco portion of the festival will wrap July 28 with a sneak preview of the action thriller “The Red Sea Diving Resort.“ A star-filled cast (Chris Evans, Sir Ben Kingsley, Greg Kinnear and others) re-enacts the true story of a Mossad operation to funnel Ethiopian Jews to Israel through a defunct diving resort on the coast of Sudan.

The East Bay festival opens July 25 at the Albany Twin with another aquatic-themed film, “The Picture of His Life.” The documentary by Israeli filmmakers Yonatan Nir and Dani Menkin focuses on the world-famous underwater photographer Amos Nachoum, who left Israel after fighting in the Yom Kippur War of 1973 and settled in Pacific Grove — “settled” being a relative word, as he travels the seven seas to get close-up still photography of the world’s most dangerous and elusive ocean creatures. In this unsettling documentary, Nachoum goes in search of the most dangerous subject of all: the Arctic polar bear.

Another East Bay highlight will be a Sunday morning “Film and Feast” on July 28, with the West Coast premiere of “Abe,” a gentle, family-friendly drama about a 12-year-old Brooklynite who is mentored by a compassionate Brazilian cook in his neighborhood. The boy is known as Abraham by the Israeli side of his family and Ibrahim by the Palestinian side, and the two groups of relatives bicker constantly over how to raise him. But he wants to be known simply as Abe the chef. The screening will be followed by a lunch reception (separate ticket) at Zaytoon Middle Eastern restaurant, up the block from the theater. “Abe” also screens at the Castro on July 20.

The centerpiece narrative film is a quirky comedy set in Israel called “Tel Aviv on Fire.” That title is the name of a fictional television soap opera produced by a Palestinian production company in Ramallah and watched obsessively by Israelis and Palestinians alike in the movie. The film-within-a-film conceit sets up an almost Shakespearean plot of obscured identities and manipulations. Rueful social commentary ensues. It has its Bay Area premiere at CinéArts in Palo Alto on July 24, with other screenings in San Francisco, Albany and San Rafael.

The centerpiece film, “The Amazing Jonathan Documentary,” also plays with layers of deception and perceptions of reality. Its Jewish subject, the outlandish Las Vegas magician and stand-up comic John Szeles, is an unreliable performer addicted to drugs who makes his living through the art of deception. He may or may not be dying of a heart condition, and may or may not show up for all his appointments with the filmmaker. The film will screen four times during the festival.

A full schedule of films and events is online at sfjff.org. Contact the SFJFF by email at boxoffice@sfjff.org or by calling (415) 621-0568.

Laura Pall
Laura Paull

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