The Bay Area offers moviegoers an abundance of Jewish film festivals, and one of the granddaddies is just around the corner: the Silicon Valley Jewish Film Festival, now in its 28th year.
This year’s festival opens Oct. 27 and runs through Nov. 17, with 31 films and 51 screenings (including three free screenings for students) at three venues: the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto, the AMC Saratoga 14 in San Jose and, new this year, the two-screen CinéArts at Palo Alto Square.
According to festival director Tzvia Shelef, there will be more special events, more invited directors and guests and more movies than ever before.
The opening-night gala on Sunday, Oct. 27 at the JCC will feature a screening of “Picture of His Life,” a documentary in English and Hebrew (with English subtitles) about the personal quest of renowned underwater and wildlife photographer Amos Nachoum to swim unprotected with polar bears. Nachoum, who served in the Yom Kippur War and now lives on the Monterey Peninsula, will take questions from the audience after the show, as will the film’s award-winning Israeli director Dani Menkin and executive producer Ori Eisen.
The festival’s centerpiece film is “Working Woman,” an Israeli feature in Hebrew with English subtitles, about a married woman who sacrifices her family life to prove herself to her new boss. But when flirting turns into harassment, she struggles to restore her sense of dignity and self-worth.
Following both screenings, on Nov. 6 at CinéArts and Nov. 7 at Saratoga 14, a panel discussion will be held with Ann Ravel, a Berkeley Law lecturer who represents victims in sexual harassment cases; former Miss Israel Illana Shoshan-Diamant, now a lawyer and women’s rights activist; and Jennifer Blakely, a former Google employee who has spoken out about the company’s alleged exploitation of women.
“It’s a powerful film and will be an empowering panel,” Shelef said.
The closing-night film on Nov. 17 at the JCC is “Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles,” a documentary about the creation of the Broadway sensation “Fiddler on the Roof” and its continuing impact. A Q&A following the 92-minute film will include producer Valerie Thomas and actor Michael Bernardi, the youngest person ever to play Tevye on Broadway (at age 31) and the son of Herschel Bernardi, who played Tevye on Broadway nearly 50 years ago.
Another festival highlight is the West Coast premiere of “Shai K.,” a documentary about legendary Israeli actor Shaike Ophir, whose story is unknown to most Americans. Born in Jerusalem in 1928, he became a megastar while playing a spectrum of character types in both dramas and comedies. “Everyone can find themselves in Shaike,” says one commentator in the film. Often described as “the Israeli Charlie Chaplin,” Ophir worked with Alfred Hitchcock and Marcel Marceau, but he also had a troubled family life, which the film explores. In Hebrew with English subtitles, the film will screen Nov. 3 at CinéArts.
A perhaps even more unknown story will be illuminated in “The Accountant of Auschwitz,” a 2018 documentary that reconstructs Germany’s controversial 2014 war crimes trial of a frail, 94-year-old former Auschwitz guard. The 78-minute Canadian film, partially in German with English subtitles, will screen Nov. 4 at CinéArts and Nov. 12 at Saratoga 14.
This year’s festival will pay tribute to the great Israeli writer Amos Oz, who died last December, with a screening of “Amos Oz: The Nature of Dreams” on Nov. 5 at CinéArts. The 2009 Israeli documentary, which is in English, Hebrew and German with English subtitles, includes Oz himself talking about his life and work, plus insights from writers such as Nadine Gordimer, Sari Nusseibeh and Paul Auster.
Shelef also recommends “The Jewish Underground,” a tense documentary about the Shin Bet’s investigation of a radical right-wing Jewish organization, the Makhteret, that carried out several attacks on Muslims in the West Bank in the 1980s and even plotted to blow up the Muslim holy site the Dome of the Rock. In Hebrew with English subtitles, the 2017 film will screen Nov. 6 at CinéArts and Nov. 7 at Saratoga 14. Director Shai Gal, a correspondent for an investigative TV program in Israel, is scheduled to attend both screenings.
“It’s an extraordinary documentary about people who tried to bomb the holy site in Jerusalem, and did not succeed — thank God!” Shelef said. “And yet it tells how these same kinds of people continue to impact the government today.”
Tickets to most films are $14 in advance and $16 at the door (with a $2 discount for seniors). Special events cost more.