39th San Francisco Jewish Film Festival Wrap Release




SAN FRANCISCO, August 5, 2019 — The Festival, the first and largest of its kind, presented 65 films from 13 countries during the nearly three week run in San Francisco, Albany, Oakland, Palo Alto and San Rafael, and welcomed over 60 filmmakers and special guests who were met with warm responses and thought provoking dialogue amongst the Jewish, independent film, and media arts communities.

“From Anatevka to the Red Sea, the 39th annual San Francisco Jewish Film Festival was one for the record books. Filmgoers danced in the aisles, feasted on the culinary delights of the Bay Area, and debated and discussed more than 125 screenings throughout 5 Bay Area cities. The global diversity of the program expanded understanding of Jewish identity and culture in contemporary life through the perspectives of the most talented lineup of films and filmmakers.” — Lexi Leban, Executive Director

“Our opening night film, FIDDLER: MIRACLE OF MIRACLES, was one of the most successful kickoffs we’ve ever had. Festival goers unanimously praised this finely crafted and emotionally rich film. There was laughter throughout and there were also not many dry eyes. There are not many films that can take audiences on such an emotional roller coaster.”- Jay Rosenblatt, Program Director

The Festival featured twenty-two sold-out shows across multiple venues including:



Returning for the third year, the SFJFF Audience Awards, chosen by the Festival’s 40,000+ attendees, went to THE KEEPER for the Best Narrative Feature Award and PICTURE OF HIS LIFE for the Best Documentary Feature Award. Runners up in each category, respectively, were TEL AVIV ON FIRE and FIDDLER: MIRACLE OF MIRACLES

The juried SFJFF Best Short Documentary Award was presented to GUY HIRCEFELD, A GUY WITH A CAMERA, local filmmaker Andrés Gallegos’ study of an Israeli veteran who now fights against the Israeli occupation and environmental warfare with his only weapon, a camera. As an Academy Award® qualifying film festival in the Documentary Short Subject category, the film will be eligible to be nominated for an Oscar® for the 2020 Academy Awards®.

The 2019 SFJFF Film Movement Award was presented to Sarah Smith for her film, BLACK HAT, about a seemingly pious Hasidic man living a double life, and the aftermath of misplacing his black hat. Presented with distributor Film Movement, the Award honors achievement in short filmmaking that express the Jewish experience in a unique, original and meaningful way, or provides a fresh perspective on diversity within the Israeli or Jewish community.

The Festival inaugurated the new SFJFF Youth Jury Award, with a jury of Bay Area high school teens. This award also went to Sarah Smith for her film, BLACK HAT.


SFJFF39 kicked off with a rousing screening at the Castro Theatre of FIDDLER: A MIRACLE OF MIRACLES, Max Lewkowicz’s fascinating exploration of the cultural impact of Fiddler on the Roof. Lewkowicz was present for an in-depth Q&A following the screening. FIDDLER received great praise from Bay Area moviegoers, making for an inspiring and celebratory Opening Night event. The screening was followed by the Festival’s annual bash at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, where guests enjoyed drinks and delicacies provided by SFJFF39’s food and drink purveyors.

The Festival’s Closing Night was a special sold-out screening of THE RED SEA DIVING REPORT by Gideon Raff, creator of the acclaimed Israeli television series Prisoners of War and producer of its American spin-off Homeland. This suspenseful thriller was based on the incredible story of Mossad agents and brave Ethiopians who used a holiday retreat in Sudan to smuggle thousands of refugees to Israel. THE RED SEA DIVING RESORT received a standing ovation, and director Raff was joined by former Ethiopian refugee Daniel Sahalo for the Q&A. Festival goers then joined the guests for a spirited Closing Night reception in the Castro mezzanine.


The Festival presented two remarkable Centerpiece films. The Centerpiece Narrative film was TEL AVIV ON FIRE by Sameh Zoabi, a hilarious satire about Palestinian TV crew in Ramallah filming a soap opera set in 1967 during the lead-up to the Six-Day War. Zoabi was present for lively discussions in San Francisco, Palo Alto, and Albany. The Centerpiece Documentary was the hilarious and confounding THE AMAZING JOHNATHAN DOCUMENTARY by Ben Berman, who was present for the Castro screening to take questions from amused audience members.

Peabody Award winning filmmaker Judith Helfand received the JFI Freedom of Expression Award in conjunction with a screening of her new film COOKED: SURVIVAL BY ZIP CODE, a film about the politics of disaster relief. Following the screening, Helfand discussed the issues raised in her film with Daniel Homsey, Director of the Neighborhood Empowerment Network, and Bijan Karimi, Assistant Deputy Director, Emergency Services for the City of San Francisco; moderated by Nico Opper. The screening was featured as part of Take Action Day, a day dedicated to social justice films that reflect the Jewish value of Tikkun Olam, healing the world with our actions.

The East Bay Opening Night showcased PICTURE OF HIS LIFE, one of the most beautiful and crowd pleasing films in the Festival. A portrait of Amos Nachoum, one of the world’s great underwater photographers, the screening was attended by directors Dani Menkin and Yonatan Nir, producer Nancy Spielberg and subject Amos Nachoum. An outdoor street party with local treats from Saul’s Deli, Pomella Oakland Catering, and Hagafen wine followed the screening.

“Song and Dance” night was a particular highlight, with a screening of THE MAMBONIKS, a delightful study of Jewish aficionados of this Cuban dance craze of the 1950s, with director Lex Gillespie present. The screening was preceded by a concert of mambo-inspired music by Club Havana 1950, led by Sascha Jacobsen, which had the audience dancing and forming a conga line in the Castro aisles.

SAFE SPACES was the Next Wave Spotlight presentation, geared toward audiences 35 and under but enjoyed by all, about a college professor coming to terms with the upheavals in his personal and professional life. The film starred Justin Long, Fran Drescher, and Richard Schiff. Director Daniel Schechter was present for discussions about the film at its screenings in San Francisco and Palo Alto. Following the San Francisco screening, a convivial reception took place in the Castro Mezzanine for Next Wave passholders, featuring snacks, Bay Area made House Kombucha bottles, and Tito’s Handmade Vodka cocktails.

The “Film and Feast” screening of ABE (followed by a Middle Eastern lunch at Zaytoon Mediterranean Restaurant) delighted audiences with a tale of Abe, a young kid from Brooklyn who tries to unite his bicultural Palestinian/ Israeli family through culinary delights. The movie starred Noah Schnapp from Stranger Things and acclaimed Brazilian musician Seu Jorge.

“Desperately Seeking Israel” was a unique sidebar of films spotlighting the lives of Ethiopian Jews. The series featured the powerful drama set during the Ethiopian civil war; FIG TREE which is the first feature directed by an Ethiopian- Israeli woman filmmaker loosely based on her life experience; THE PASSENGERS, the engaging documentary about Ethiopians waiting to make aliyah (declare Israeli citizenship); and the Closing Night selection, THE RED SEA DIVING RESORT.


WHAT SHE SAID: THE ART OF PAULINE KAEL was one of the biggest events of the Festival. This film centered on one of the most powerful, and personal, movie critics of the 20th century. Pauline Kael broadcast many of her early reviews on KPFA in Berkeley, and programmed the legendary Berkeley Cinema Guild theater from 1955 to 1960. Other locals featured in the film included writers Greil Marcus & Dirk van Vouhuys, Ortrun Niesar of Sotheby’s (who handled the sale of Kael’s former home with its historic murals by San Francisco artist Jess), and former longtime SF Examiner film critic Michael Sragow. WHAT SHE SAID received a standing ovation, and was followed by a HerStory panel and discussion on feminism and film criticism at Spark Arts, facilitated by Karen Davis. Panelists included Meredith Brody, Betsy Bozdech, Faridah Gbadamosi, and Ruthe Stein.


SFJFF once again presented “Take Action Day,” a full day of illuminating documentaries which take their cues from the Jewish value of tikkun olam, dedicated to repairing the world with our actions. Powerful and inspiring discussions led by award-winning filmmaker and former JFI Filmmaker in Residence Nico Opper, followed each screening. This year’s lineup included documentaries such as AMERICAN MUSLIM, which explored Muslim/Jewish alliances in the face of the Muslim ban and rising Islamaphobia; and Julia Reichert and Steven Bognar’s AMERICAN FACTORY, winner of the Directing Award at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. Community activist support was provided by Emergency Services for the City of San Francisco, the Neighborhood Empowerment Network, Jewish Family and Children Services, the Jewish Community Relations Council, Bend The Arc and others.

Following the screening of THIS IS PERSONAL, Amy Berg’s examination of the politics of the Women’s March, the Festival held “This is Personal: Intersectional Identity and the Women’s March,” a panel and conversation facilitated by Ilana Kaufman, Director of the Jews of Color Field Building Initiative. This in depth panel featuring Jewish women of color played to a packed audience at Spark Arts Gallery.

Noir City joined forces with the Festival following the screening of CURTIZ, Tamás Topolánszky’s dramatization of the making of Michael Curtiz’s CASABLANCA. Noir City founder Eddie Muller and Curtiz biographer Alan K. Rode held a compelling discussion on the Castro stage, followed by a book signing on the Castro mezzanine.


The 39th San Francisco Jewish Film Festival featured an array of engaging and engrossing films that expand the breadth and scope of Jewish identity, history and culture. 2019 saw the addition of a Youth Jury Prize, a new partnership with the Sundance Institute, and the creation of a Filmmaker in Residence Alumni Cohort. The Jewish Film Institute will build on these new initiatives and continue with creative year-round programming, increased community partnerships, and keep on with shared crucial and engaging conversations on, around, and about Jewish cinema as we move into our 40th anniversary celebration.

Stay tuned for the Jewish Film Institute’s year-round programming, including WinterFest 2020, and the 40th San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.

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All Festival Photos are available to download here. Please credit the Jewish Film Institute and San Francisco Jewish Film Festival and photographer Pat Mazzera unless otherwise noted.

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About the Jewish Film Institute
The Jewish Film Institute (JFI) is the premier curatorial voice for Jewish film and media and a leading arts and culture organization in the Bay Area. Presenter of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, JFI catalyzes and inspires communities in San Francisco and around the world to expand their understanding of Jewish life and culture through film, media, and dialogue. Year round, the Jewish Film Institute promotes awareness and appreciation of the diversity of the Jewish people through multiple mediums — including original online programming that reaches a global audience of over 2 million views. All of these services, along with artists’ support and educational initiatives, give audiences around the world even greater access to Jewish culture and the visionaries who shape it.

About the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival

The San Francisco Jewish Film Festival (SFJFF), presented by the Jewish Film Institute, is the largest and longest-running festival of its kind and a leader in the curation and presentation of new film and media exploring the complexities of Jewish life around the world. Presenting more than 65 films and 135 individual screenings, performances and events in five Bay Area cities (San Francisco, Palo Alto, San Rafael, Oakland, Albany), SFJFF attracts more than 40,000 filmgoers and industry professionals to its 18-day program.

The Jewish Film Institute extends a heartfelt thanks to all of its generous donors. For a complete listing of members and donors, visit jfi.org/get-involved/supporters.

Premier Festival Sponsors: Sterling Bank & Trust, The Seligman Family Foundation.

Media Sponsors: Premier Media — SF Chronicle and SFGate; Signature Media Sponsor — J News of Northern CA; Grand Media Sponsors — KQED, The Forward; Major Media Sponsor — ABC7; SF Bay Times & Betty’s List.

Business and Community Sponsors: Berkeley Film Foundation, Britex Fabrics, the Contemporary Jewish Museum, Craig Harrison’s Expressions of Excellence, GoWatchIt, Ingeniux Web Experience Management, Schoenberg Family Law Group, Sinai Memorial Chapel, Chevra Kadisha and Wareham Development, and Where the Buffalo Roam.

Hospitality Sponsors: Catch, Cinderella Bakery, Fairytale Brownies, Frena, Grand Bakery, Hagafen Cellars, Hint Water, La Méditerranée, Landmark Theatres, L’chaim Foods, Leftwich Event Specialists, Lyft, Melons Catering & Events, Oren’s Hummus, SnB Party Rentals, Pat Mazzera Photography, Posia, Pomella Oakland Catering, Saul’s Restaurant & Delicatessen, Taste Catering, Wise Sons, Yotel, Lagunitas Brewing Company and Zaytoon Mediterranean Mediterranean Restaurant and Bar

Founder’s Circle: Steven and Bunny Fayne, Nancy and Stephen Grand, Ray Lifchez, The Alexander M. and June L. Maisin Foundation, Gale Mondry and Bruce Cohen, Osher Donor Advised Fund, Lela and Gerry Sarnat, The Laszlo N. Tauber Family Foundation, The Bonnie and Marty Tenenbaum Foundation, and The Nancy P. and Richard K. Robbins Family Foundation

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