Noah Schnapp (right) as the aspiring chef Abe and Seu Jorge as his culinary mentor in "Abe"
Noah Schnapp (right) as the aspiring chef Abe and Seu Jorge as his culinary mentor in "Abe"

Food, Christmas, ‘Fiddler’ and more at Sonoma Jewish film fest

From a documentary about innovative Israeli efforts to solve water supply problems to a short film about the contributions of Jewish composers to popular Christmas songs, the Sonoma County Jewish Film Festival will present a wide range of Jewish-interest films from Oct. 10 to Nov. 12 at the Rialto Cinemas in Sebastopol.

Presented by the JCC of Sonoma County, the 24th annual festival kicks off Oct. 10 with “The Keeper,” winner of the audience award at this year’s San Francisco Jewish Film Festival. The drama tells the true story of Bert Trautmann, a Nazi SS soldier and POW who became one of Britain’s all-time soccer legends. The film raises questions about forgiveness and the power of sports to unite.

“Sustainable Nation,” a Bay Area premiere, follows three Israeli scientists on the cutting edge of water technology as they address acute problems in India, Africa and California. It will be shown on Oct. 17, preceded by a short film from Israel and followed by a panel talk with experts and a Q&A.

“Whereas most documentaries leave you with a deeper awareness of a problem, this one focuses on hopeful solutions from Israeli scientists in three different stories,” said Irène Hodes, who became festival director in June.

On Oct. 23, the festival pick is “Bye Bye Germany,” described as “a comic drama about humor in the face of overwhelming odds.” Set in 1946 Europe, the Jewish protagonists have managed to survive the Nazis but still need money to go to America. The smooth-talking tricksters aim to earn it by selling to defeated Germans what they presume they need most.

On Oct. 29, “Dreaming of a Jewish Christmas” is a program of five short films linked by the theme of the relationship Jews have with the non-Jewish world. The full-length program includes the musical documentary “Dreaming of a Jewish Christmas”; the Oscar-nominated animated short “A Thousand Kisses”; the hip-hop Holocaust film “Edek”; the comedic drama “Jewish Blind Date”; and “Joe’s Violin,” a documentary about a Holocaust survivor whose donated violin changes the life of a 12-year-old girl from the Bronx.

A special feature of this year’s program will be the Nov. 5 screening of the 1971 Academy Award-winning film “Fiddler on the Roof.” It is the first time in decades that the three-hour film has been shown on the big screen, according to the festival website. With the release of a new documentary about the making of the Broadway musical and film (“Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles”), “We thought this would be a good time to show the original film again,” Hodes said. “Many in the younger generation have never even seen ‘Fiddler on the Roof,’ and many of us would like to see it again.”

The festival will host “Fiddler” trivia and costume contests in the lobby for both showings, with live music by professional fiddler David Garelick and other local musicians.

The festival closes on Nov. 12 with the comedy “Abe,” about a 12-year-old chef who is half Jewish-Israeli and half Muslim-Palestinian. Navigating his family conflicts with the guidance of a Brazilian chef (musician Seu Jorge, who played Portuguese covers of David Bowie songs in Wes Anderson’s “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou”), the film emphasizes the power of food to unite all people.

Each film screens twice on the scheduled day, at 1 and 7 p.m. at Rialto Cinemas, 6868 McKinley St., Sebastopol. Festival passes and individual tickets at jccsoco.org/2019jff or (707) 528-4222.

Laura Pall
Laura Paull

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