From the poster for "Stranger/Sister," which will be streaming as part of the Sacramento Jewish Film Festival.
From the poster for "Stranger/Sister," which will be streaming as part of the Sacramento Jewish Film Festival.

Array of genres, countries in Sacramento Jewish film fest

Outside of government, two things known to be big in Sacramento are soccer and tango.

Both passions will be represented among the films this year at the 22-year-old Sacramento Jewish Film Festival — with a Jewish angle.

“A Common Goal” is a 2020 documentary about Israel’s national soccer team and the fact that about half the players on the squad are Israeli Arabs, including the team’s first-ever Muslim captain. Set during a European tournament, the 52-minute film reveals the team’s struggles for unity and integrity amidst an onslaught of biases from the media and many fans. It will stream March 12-14.

“Tango Shalom” is a lively and humorous feature film about a married, money-pinched Hasidic man with natural dance talent who finds a way to take part in a high-stakes dance competition without breaking the Jewish law that forbids him to touch any woman besides his wife. His dance partner is a hot, professional tango dancer who shares his desperation for the winning purse, and their solution is as ingenious as the movie is haimish, a loving portrait of a Brooklyn Orthodox family and the community that encircles them.

A Northern California premiere, “Tango Shalom” is the only film that will be available to stream throughout the entire 22-day festival March 3-24. Each of the other 23 films in the lineup, staggered over three weeks, will be available for about three days.

Due to the pandemic, the festival is being held virtually, of course. It’s a program of the Jewish Federation of the Sacramento Region and its Jewish Community Relations Council that has long allowed the Jewish community to unite, celebrate and socialize, with festivities normally held at the Crest Theatre.

“We’re going to do the best we can,” festival director Teven Laxer said, promising that the festival will be bringing the community together via Zoom. For example, a live, online party will be held with cast members of “Tango Shalom” on March 21, offering music and activities and — who knows? — maybe a tango lesson.

Also, a public conversation around the film “Stranger/Sister” (streaming March 6-8) will take place on March 7. The 39-minute documentary is about two ordinary women, one Muslim and one Jewish, who form an alliance that turns into a movement, with chapters in Sacramento, Austin, Chicago and elsewhere. Their efforts to “turn strangers into sisters” challenge assumptions about how to fight hate in America, and the film also deals with anti-immigrant bias and hate crimes. The March 7 panel discussion will include  local members of the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom.

The festival lineup includes films from many countries, including Israel, Canada, Germany, Slovakia, Italy, the United Kingdom, Ireland and Morocco.

From Norway comes a 2020 feature film, “The Crossing,” that Laxer described as family friendly. It involves a Norwegian sister and brother in 1942 who undertake to escort a Jewish brother and sister across the Norwegian border to safety in neutral Sweden. Starring a spunky, preadolescent Norwegian actress, the film underscores the importance of courage, integrity and taking responsibility, even at a young age.

The festival also is presenting two  highly regarded new Israeli films, each winners of several 2020 Israeli Ophir Awards, “Asia” (March 6-8) and “Here We Are” (March 21-23).

“Asia” is a tender mother-daughter drama about a young woman facing a terminal illness that won nine Ophirs, including best picture, best actress for Alena Yiv as the mother and best supporting actress for Shira Haas, star of the Netflix hit “Unorthodox” and featured as an overwrought teen in “Shtisel.” (Geoblocked to Northern California, this screening excludes the Bay Area, but the film also will be shown at the JFI’s WinterFest the weekend of Feb. 25-28.)

“Here We Are” is a road movie about a father and his autistic  teenage son that won Ophirs for best director (Nir Bergman), best screenplay, best actor (Shai Avivi) and best supporting actor (Noam Imber).

Another Israeli film of note is  “Code Name: Ayalon” (March 3-5), a new 69-minute documentary about the 1975 discovery of an underground Israeli munitions factory that had been kept secret for three decades. It manufactured bullets, to defend the young Jewish state should it be attacked, and was located in the ground underneath the laundry of a kibbutz. Astoundingly, director Michael Lopatin was able to locate and interview about a dozen of the 45 or so original young men and women who worked there.

Tickets for single films are $12 per person, $18 per family; a five-film pass costs $50 per person, $75 per family; and all-festival passes are $120 and $180. Tickets include access to Zoom events associated with the selected film.

Some of the films will be restricted to certain geographical areas, so check for that information and the full lineup at sacjewishfilmfest.org.

Laura Pall
Laura Paull

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