31st SF JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL – July 21st through August 8th

Jewish culture and life is a rich swath of material from which many, many talented minds have spun stories reflecting the diversity and depth of experience unique to its people. The 31st San Francisco Jewish Film Festival screens this year’s selection of cinema stories on July 21-August 8, 2011 at the Castro Theatre and the JCCSF in San Francisco, Roda Theatre (at Berkeley Repertory Theatre) in Berkeley, the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto, and the Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center in San Rafael. The first and still the largest of its kind, the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival (SFJFF) continues to search the world for the best stories told on film, presenting them as a starting point for discovery and discussion and celebration that highlight 5771 years of culture.
Click here to purchase tickets on-line: SFJFF31.org

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JEWS IN TOONS

SFJFF31 is Executive Director Peter L. Stein’s valedictory festival after eight years of dynamic leadership. Together with filmmaker/program director Jay Rosenblatt, associate programmer Joshua Moore and the staff of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, they are proud to present 38 narrative and documentary features and 19 short films that are a focused snapshot of world cinema through the Jewish lens. Among these are 28 premieres, including one International Premiere, 4 North American Premieres and 5 United States Premieres. This year’s screenfest will kickoff with MABUL (THE FLOOD), an incisive portrait of a broken family from acclaimed Israeli filmmaker Guy Nattiv (STRANGERS, OFFSIDE). The 2011 Festival is overjoyed to present its Freedom of Expression Award to Hollywood icon Kirk Douglas along with archival screenings of SPARTACUS and THE JUGGLER. SFJFF31 also spotlights a wealth of stories about Poland and its Jews with a Centerpiece presentation of Jan Kidawa-Blonski’s LITTLE ROSE, along with Feliks Falk’s dramatic JOANNA, and the documentaries TORN by Ronit Kertsner and the Closing Night film 100 VOICES: A JOURNEY HOME by Matthew Asner and Danny Gold.  And from the lighthearted side of the Jewish psyche comes JEWS IN TOONS: AN UPROARIOUS EVENING WITH KRUSTY, KYLE AND OTHER FAVORITES with a special appearance by longtime “The Simpsons” writer/producer Mike Reiss.

A Coming of Age Family Drama on Opening Night and a Cantorial Closing Night

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MABUL (The Flood)

SFJFF is proud to open this year’s festival with the North American premiere of MABUL (THE FLOOD), directed by Guy Nattiv. The members of the Rosko family lead lives of silent desperation, each hiding dark secrets from the other members of the unstable family. Wife and mother Miri (Ronit Elkabetz) is having an affair, husband and father Gidi (Tzahi Grad) has lost his job but maintains the charade of his normal workday routine, and son Yoni (Yoav Rotman) desperately navigates the deadly waters of adolescence alone. When older autistic brother Tomer (Michael Moshonov) returns to the family, the building pressure explodes. The sharp performances of the cast earned the film 6 Ophir nominations, the Israeli equivalent of the Oscars. SFJFF is delighted to welcome Nattiv to the Opening Night film presentation, which is followed by a fun and festive party at Swedish American Hall.

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100 VOICES

Closing Night ends the Castro Theatre run on a musical note with Matthew Asner and Danny Gold’s 100 VOICES: A JOURNEY HOME. 100 VOICES documents the journey of 72 cantors (Jewish ritual singers) who travel to Poland, the original home of cantorial music, to honor the form’s foundations and traditions. The film focuses on 6 cantors and through their personal recollections and experiences and through the use of archival footage, they exemplify the survival and beauty of a musical art against all forces. Visiting cantors Nathan Lam (organizer of the 100 VOICES tour) and Marcus Feldman join local cantors Roslyn Barak and Sharon Bernstein for a rousing pre-film vocal performance with accompaniment by the Mighty Wurlitzer.

For Berkeley’s own Opening Night screening, SFJFF31 presents a one-time screening of SARAH’S KEY, starring Kristin Scott Thomas as a journalist researching the infamous roundup of Paris’s Jews in 1942, and who discovers her family’s connection to it. This screening will be followed by a reception in the Roda Theatre courtyard. And a new tradition begins for our new South Bay venue—a celebratory Opening Night toast at the Oshman Family JCC before the screening of Feliks Falk’s JOANNA with the director in attendance.

Kirk Douglas Honored with Freedom of Expression Award

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KIRK DOUGLAS and DALTON TRUMBO

On Sunday, July 24, SFJFF31 will present its Freedom of Expression Award to Hollywood icon Kirk Douglas on the stage of the Castro Theatre in celebration of the 50th anniversary of SPARTACUS and Douglas’ proudest professional achievement: breaking the Hollywood blacklist by insisting on a screen credit for Dalton Trumbo, one of the Hollywood Ten. Douglas, who is Jewish (born Issur Danielovitch) and is now 94 years old, has made over 87 films, appeared in 10 plays and has 9 books to his credit. He continues to regard breaking the blacklist to be his proudest career achievement. SFJFF’s Freedom of Expression Award honors the unfettered imagination, which is the cornerstone of a free, just and open society. Previous winners include Walter Bernstein and Norma Barzman, two veteran screenwriters who survived the darkest years of the Hollywood Blacklist; local independent filmmaker, found footage alchemist and film educator Jay Rosenblatt (now Program Director of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival); prolific and political Israeli filmmaker Amos Gitai; provocative Berlin-based filmmaker Dani Levy; weaver of archival film tales Péter Forgács; filmmaker and curator Aviva Kempner; and Israeli-Arab satiric genius Sayed Kashua.

Spotlight on “Poland and the Jews” Includes Centerpiece Film LITTLE ROSE

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LITTLE ROSE

In addition to the trip back to Poland in 100 VOICES, SFJFF31 uncovered a trove of films from and about Poland, marking a re-emergence of a proud cinema tradition. In the Centerpiece slot, Jan Kidawa-Blonski’s LITTLE ROSE is a Cold War espionage thriller that opens as news of the Six Day War arrives. In this paranoid atmosphere, a blond bombshell (Magdalena Boczarska) is hired by the secret police to spy on a renowned intellectual (Andrzej Seweryn) suspected of subversive views. The “he loves” and “she loves” become entangled with the intrigues of the State security machine. Boczarska will attend the Castro Theatre screening. Film and theater director Feliks Falk’s JOANNA proposes the altruistic dilemma—what would you risk to save another during World War II in Nazi-occupied Poland? Joanna is a gentile who discovers an abandoned 8-year-old Jewish girl and faces this dilemma, knowing that any choice she makes will be life-changing. SFJFF is delighted to welcome Falk in person in San Francisco, Berkeley and Palo Alto. The documentary TORN by Israeli Ronit Kertsner reveals the poignant dilemma faced by a Polish priest who discovers he was born Jewish and wants to embrace his new-found identity without giving up his Catholic calling. Kertsner will be attending the screenings. The documentary PHNOM PENH LULLABY by Polish filmmaker Pawel Kloc follows the naïve and desperate Israeli tarot card reader Ilian Schickman, his girlfriend Saran and their infant daughters as they struggle to make a living in the redlight district of the Cambodian capital. Their descent down the rabbit hole is unflinching. Director Pawl Kloc will be attending the screenings.

Jews in Toons: Irreverent Comic Classics and Special “Simpsons” Guest

From the sidesplitting standup comedy of the Borsht Belt to the Jewish humor that pervades Hollywood film and sitcoms, there has long been a place for self-reflective Jewish wit within American popular culture. Now a new set of bold, irreverent and colorful Jewish characters have become legendary in beloved cartoons. SFJFF is pleased to present the special program Jews in Toons: An Uproarious Evening with Krusty, Kyle and Other Favorites, featuring classic Jewish-themed episodes of such popular animated series as “The Simpsons,” “Family Guy” and “South Park,” With a special appearance by longtime producer/writer of “The Simipsons,” Mike Reiss. 
“We are so thrilled to be presenting this night of comedy and the opportunity for collective and cathartic laughter,” remarked Program Director Jay Rosenblatt.
Watch Krusty the Clown come clean about his terse relationship with his Rabbi father (voiced by Jackie Mason), laugh with South Park’s ‘only Jewish kid’ Kyle as he embarks on a quest for a refund after seeing Mel Gibson’s THE PASSION OF CHRIST, and squirm in your seat as Family Guy dad Peter implores son Chris to convert to Judaism ‘so he’ll grow up smart.’ Join us for a highly animated and very funny evening at the Castro Theatre.

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FAMILY GUY

Extending the evening’s festivities will be a post-screening talk by Mike Reiss, who has won 4 Emmys and a Peabody Award during his 18 years as a writer-producer for “The Simpsons.” Among his other qualifications as a comic genius include a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Animation Writers Caucus, credits as editor of “The National Lampoon,” co-creator of the animated series “The Critic,” creator of Showtime’s hit cartoon “Queer Duck,” and stints as a writer for “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show,” “ALF,” and “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.” Reiss is also the creative genius behind the SFJFF31 trailer, which stars Queer Duck himself.

Features from Around the World

As always, SFJFF takes an international tour of the world to glimpse the breadth and variety of the Jewish experience. From Israel comes 77 STEPS by Ibtisam Mara’ana who documents her journey from her Arab Muslim village to make a new life for herself in Tel Aviv; BLOOD RELATION by Noa Ben Hagai is her search for the truth of her great aunt’s past life; and Nir Bergman’s INTIMATE GRAMMAR, a beautiful narrative based on a 1991 David Grossman about the teenage son of a dysfunctional family in Jerusalem in the 60s. In MARY LOU, Eytan Fox (YOSSI & JAGGER, WALK ON WATER) returns with a story of Meir, a drag performer with family issues and 70s glam-rock in his heart. THE MATCHMAKER by Avi Nesher, concerns Arik’s Felliniesque summer vacation involving a sexy girl, a group of Jewish dwarves who run the downtown movie theater, and the fabulous matchmaker Yankele Bride. Shlomi Eldar’s documentary PRECIOUS LIFE revolves around Palestinian/Israeli relations through the filter of the hospitals they both share.

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TORN

Karin Kainer’s SKATE OF MIND, a portrait of the “skater-im” and the struggles of the alternative lifestyle in mainstream Israel; TORN, Ronit Kerstner’s documentary portrait of a Catholic priest who began life as a Jewish baby left on a Polish gentile’s doorstep and is now searching for his true past; and Duki Dror’s (MY FANTASIA, THE JOURNEY OF VAAN NGUYEN, MR. CORTISONE, HAPPY DAYS) meditation on the life and career of the architect Erich Mendelsohn, INCESSANT VISIONS–LETTERS FROM AN ARCHITECT.

From Germany, fest favorite Dani Levy (MESCHUGGE, GO FOR ZUCKER, MY FÜHRER) returns with LIFE IS TOO LONG, a screwball comedy about a B-list filmmaker trying to get back in the game while crippled by all his relations. Also from Germany, make note of IN HEAVEN UNDERGROUND: THE WEISSENSEE JEWISH CEMETERY, Britta Wauer’s exploration of the Berlin cemetery in continuous operation for 130 years. From France comes THE NAMES OF LOVE, Michel Leclerc’s absurdist comedy about a tightly-wound Jewish scientist who falls for a young Algerian sexpot; Rose Bosch’s THE ROUNDUP, the harrowing investigative account of the Vel d’Hiv roundup of Paris’ Jews in 1942; and, in a Berkeley ONLY screening, Gilles Paquet-Brenner’s narrative SARAH’S KEY revolving around some very personal circumstances during the Vel d’Hiv roundup.

In an Austrian/German/Hungarian co-production, Elizabeth Scharang’s debut feature IN ANOTHER LIFETIME is a haunting, bittersweet tale of Hungarian Jews on a death march who stage a Strauss operetta in an Austrian village in a vain hope to survive their fate. In another co-production from Chile/Spain/Germany, filmmaker German Berger-Hertz retraces the final days of his idealistic father who was executed in the 1973 military coup in Chile. And from Holland comes David de Jongh’s portrait of a devoted father and his lifelong dedication to his daughter’s memory in OTTO FRANK, FATHER OF ANNE.

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OTTO FRANK

American Stories

SFJFF continues to build on its stellar reputation for not-to-be-missed documentary stories about the Jewish American experience. In 2011, these include STANDING SILENT, Scott Rosenfelt’s profile of journalist Phil Jacobs whose crusade to unmask sexual predators in the Jewish community exposes him to ostracism for exposing the community to external scrutiny; BETWEEN TWO WORLDS by Alan Snitow and SFJFF founder Deborah Kaufman, which explores the ideological fissures running through contemporary Jewish life; CONNECTED: AN AUTOBLOGOGRAPHY ABOUT LOVE, DEATH AND TECHNOLOGY, Tiffany Shlain’s visual cavalcade that considers technology’s effects on modern life; and Yoav Potash’s powerful indictment of the multiple injustices in a domestic violence case in CRIME AFTER CRIME. Also enlightening is Joseph Dorman’s SHOLEM ALEICHEM: LAUGHING IN THE DARKNESS about the man who lifted Yiddish from the vernacular to the literary—as a companion piece, SFJFF is screening TEVYE, the wonderful 1939 American-Yiddish adaptation of the Sholom Aleichem’s stories that inspired Fiddler on the Roof. A lighter take is provided by Josh Freed’s wry FIVE WEDDINGS AND A FELONY, a look at his real-life inability to commit to a serious relationship that is charming, galling, funny, cringe-inducing, and always compelling. And don’t miss legendary musician Lou Reed’s directorial debut in RED SHIRLEY in the JEWS IN SHORTS program.

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POLISH BAR

On the narrative side, Ben Berkowitz’s POLISH BAR centers on ambitious Reuben Horowitz (Vincent Piazza of “Boardwalk Empire”) who works in his Uncle Sol’s (Judd Hirsch) Chicago jewelry store but dreams of DJing at a top local club. Reaching for his dream, Reuben rolls the dice with his uncle Sol’s merchandise on a big drug score in this gritty, raucous drama suffused with an urban Jewish hip-hop vibe.

Politics, History, Identity and Israel

An ongoing mission of the SFJFF is to advance the understanding and dialogue around the web of politics that have clouded the Middle East for generations. This year is no different. Alan Snitow and Deborah Kaufman’s doc BETWEEN TWO WORLDS begins the dialogue by exploring the sensitivity about the discussion within the Jewish community itself. SFJFF will follow the SF screening with a panel discussion, led by KQED’s Michael Krasny, and featuring scholars of Jewish attitudes toward Israel. Also of interest to those interested in this subject are 77 STEPS by Ibtisam Mara’ana, BLOOD RELATION by Noa Ben Hagai, the Academy Award winning STRANGERS NO MORE by Karen Goodman and Kirk Simon, and the shorts A TRIP TO JAFFA by Eitan Sarid and WAJEH by Murad Nassar.

In addition, two films mark the 50th anniversary of the landmark capture and trial of Adolph Eichmann, one of the architects of the Holocaust: EICHMANN’S END, Raymond Ley’s hybrid narrative that posits the years of Adolph Eichmann’s existence in Argentina before his capture; and THE HANGMAN, Netalie Braun’s doc portrait of the Yemeni Jew who, as a young man, was Eichmann’s prison guard and executioner.

Schmooze in Style at Festival Parties and Previews

Party with the Opening Night filmmakers, festival staff and a guests after the Opening Night film at the SF Opening Night Bash, taking place at the spacious Swedish American Hall, upstairs from Café Du Nord at 2174 Market Street. Mingling, cocktailing and munching will take place from 9:00-11:00 pm. Move and groove to the live music, and visit The Backroom for a fun photobooth, a dessert lounge and more surprises. Once again, SFJFF partners with the San Francisco Neighborhood Theatre Foundation’s Film Night in the Park for a pre-festival screening in Union Square. This year’s film is the lovable rom-com WHEN HARRY MET SALLY, starring Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan. Crystal’s Harry exchanges comic/tragic byplay (written by Nora Ephron) with America’s shiksa sweetheart Ryan’s Sally as Rob Reiner directs one of the most delectable date movie offerings ever. The free outdoor screening takes place July 16th at dusk. Wrapping the San Francisco portion of the fest’s screening of 100 VOICES will be a live performance by visiting cantors Nate Lam and Marcus Feldman, joined onstage with accompaniment from the Mighty Wurlitzer.

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JOANNA

Come over to Berkeley for the Berkeley ONLY screening of SARAH’S KEY and enjoy a nosh and a libation in the Roda Theatre Courtyard after the film. Then, come down to Palo Alto for a celebratory Opening Night toast at SFJFF’s new South Bay venue—the Oshman Family JCC—before the screening of Feliks Falk’s riveting WWII tale JOANNA.

Click here to purchase Festival tickets on-line: SFJFF31.org

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Seán Martinfield
Sentinel Editor and Publisher
Seán Martinfield, who also serves as Fine Arts Critic, is a native San Franciscan. He is a Theatre Arts Graduate from San Francisco State University, a professional singer, and well-known private vocal coach to Bay Area actors and singers of all ages and persuasions. His clients have appeared in Broadway National Tours including Wicked, Aïda, Miss Saigon, Rent, Bye Bye Birdie, in theatres and cabarets throughout the Bay Area, and are regularly featured in major City events including Diva Fest, Gay Pride, and Halloween In The Castro. As an Internet consultant in vocal development and audition preparation he has published thousands of responses to those seeking his advice concerning singing techniques, professional and academic auditions, and careers in the Performing Arts. Mr. Martinfield’s Broadway clients have all profited from his vocal methodology, “The Belter’s Method”. If you want answers about your vocal technique, post him a question on AllExperts.com. If you would like to build up your vocal performance chops and participate in the Bay Area’s rich theatrical scene, e-mail him at: sean.martinfield@comcast.net.


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