The 42nd San Francisco Jewish Film Festival Wraps 10 Days of Electrifying Live Cinema in the Bay Area
The Jewish Film Institute’s (JFI) 42nd San Francisco Jewish Film Festival (SFJFF) recently wrapped 10 days of invigorating live cinema in the San Francisco Bay Area, presenting 71 films from 14 countries that expand and evolve the Jewish story. SFJFF42 welcomed dozens of local, national, and international filmmakers guests to screenings at the historic Castro Theatre in San Francisco and Albany Twin Theater in the East Bay. Robust and varied audiences enthusiastically returned to the movies to enjoy SFJFF’s curation of narrative, documentary, and short films that spotlighted nuanced and innovative Jewish stories and reflected the current moment of personal and societal awakening. SFJFF42 continued online through August 7, 2022 with selected programs available for streaming via the JFI Digital Screening Room.
SFJFF42 presented groundbreaking feature-length and short films that offer complex perspectives on Jewish history, culture, and communities around the world. The festival presented 5 World, 3 International, 10 North American, 3 United States, and 14 West Coast Premieres. SFJFF42 expanded the Festival’s focus on the art of short filmmaking, with 31 shorts presented across 4 programs (live and online), and also paired with feature films. Audiences received many films with thunderous applause and standing ovations in San Francisco and Albany.
“This was an important rebuilding year for JFI after more than two years of limited live programming, and it phenomenally exceeded our expectations,” said Lexi Leban, JFI Executive Director. “Even as the pandemic continued, a large swath of our audience enthusiastically returned to theaters, ready to engage with and receive these exceptional films. It was particularly rewarding to see the impact of JFI’s work as a funder and incubator of Jewish films, having screened five supported projects at the Festival, and to introduce our longtime audiences to the work JFI is doing year-round to broaden the field of Jewish storytelling.”
“From the Opening Night screening of Karaoke to the special documentary presentations of formally and narratively imaginative films like My Name is Andrea and Remember This, it was thrilling to again screen well-crafted and thought-provoking films for audiences in person,” added Jay Rosenblatt, JFI Program Director. “We were able to welcome many filmmakers from near and far who offered both entertaining and piercing explorations of the issues facing our community, with plentiful opportunities for audience engagement.”
SFJFF42 Award Winners
The SFJFF42 Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature went to the Centerpiece Narrative film, Farewell, Mr. Haffmann, Fred Cavayé’s transfixing wartime drama, starring Daniel Auteuil, about a Parisian jewelry shop under Nazi occupation that becomes the site of a volatile, domestic secret between three ordinary people. In a tie, the SFJFF42 Audience Award for Best Documentary Feature was shared between The Narrow Bridge by Esther Takac and Repairing the World: Stories from the Tree of Life by Patrice O’Neill. The Narrow Bridge traces the journey of four people who have lost a child or parent in violent conflict through the process of transforming their searing pain into a bridge to reconciliation. Repairing the World explores Pittsburgh’s community response to hate in the aftermath of the deadliest antisemitic attack in U.S. history in 2018.
The SFJFF42 Award for Best Documentary Short went to Holding Moses by Bay Area filmmakers Rivkah Beth Medow and Jen Rainin. The film trains a sensitive lens on queer family life, following a mother after the birth of her profoundly disabled son who taps into her experience as a dancer to find the somatic wisdom she needs to push through a traumatic version of motherhood she never expected. SFJFF is the only Academy Award®-qualifying Jewish film festival for the Best Documentary Short category. The jurors Suzan Beraza, Robin Hessman, and Eric Hynes released the following statement:
“Holding Moses is a lyrical and artfully-made film that explores the complexities of being an artist, a parent and a human. Embracing the movement and physicality of its dancer protagonist, Randi, this powerful film allows viewers to share her brutally honest and emotionally profound journey of motherhood.”
The SFJFF42 Award for Best Narrative Short, presented in partnership with the distributor Film Movement, went to Daddy’s Girl by Lena Hudson, for its story about a charming but overbearing father, played by Peter Friedman (Succession) who helps his daughter, Tedra Millan (Fosse/Verdon), move out of her wealthy older boyfriend’s apartment. The Award honors achievement in short filmmaking that expresses the Jewish experience in a unique, original and meaningful way, or provides a fresh perspective on diversity within the Israeli or Jewish community.
The SFJFF42 San Francisco Bay Area Film Critics Circle Award went to the Israeli-Palestinian drama Let It Be Morning. Director Eran Kolirin (The Band’s Visit, SFJFF ‘07), poignantly weaves a satirical story around Sami, a middle-class Palestinian businessman based in Jerusalem, and his family who are attending his brother’s wedding in the small Arab village in Israel where he grew up. An Honorable Mention went to the French narrative film Haute Couture, directed by Sylvie Ohayon and starring famed French actress Nathalie Baye. The Award was presented by Randy Myers, former president and current member of the Film Critics Circle, at the Closing Night screening of the film in Albany. The critics released the following statement:
“Kolirin gently tweaks his standard low-key style for this aware, ironic look at a community unraveling over a lockdown that halts travel to Jerusalem. Members of the San Francisco Bay Area Film Critics Circle found this sly comedy-drama, which is based on a novel [by Sayed Kashua], to go beyond standard talking points so it could express nuances of both the characters and the situations as the setup escalates to the breaking point.”
The SFJFF42 Freedom of Expression Award was presented to Ukrainian director Sergei Loznitsa, who accepted the honor virtually at the screening of his new documentary Babi Yar. Context on July 24 at the Castro Theatre. Loznitsa creates a stunning document of the 1941 Nazi massacre of 33,771 Jewish men, women, and children over a two-day period in Kyiv, Ukraine through archival footage and riveting testimony. The Freedom of Expression Award — presented annually at SFJFF since 2005 — honors the unfettered imagination, which is the cornerstone of a just, free and open society. Previous winners include Judith Helfand, Liz Garbus, Joe Berlinger, Norman Lear, Lee Grant, Theodore Bikel, Alan Berliner, Elliott Gould, Kirk Douglas, and Sayed Kashua, among others.
Opening & Closing Nights
SFJFF42 kicked off with a raucous and moving screening, at the Castro Theatre of the Israeli narrative feature Karaoke, a poignant rumination on aging and discovery from first-time director Moshe Rosenthal. Rosenthal and actor Lior Ashkenazi were in attendance for a special evening that embodied the joy of returning to the theater and the value of community events. The film was followed by the Festival’s annual Opening Night bash, held for the first time at The Randall Museum, where guests enjoyed snacks and beverages while taking in a stunning view of the San Francisco skyline.
The Festival’s sold-out Closing Night presentation of Eran Kolirin’s Let It Be Morning at the Albany Twin Theater offered a fitting bookend to Opening Night. With a strong ensemble cast led by Alex Bakri and Juna Suleiman, the film, which premiered at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival, was adapted for the screen from the novel of the same name by Palestinian author Sayed Kashua (Arab Labor, SFJFF ‘08). Israel’s official Oscar submission, Let It Be Morning swept the 2021 Ophir Awards (Israel’s equivalent of the Oscars). Kolirin dedicated the film to “everyone living on that wounded piece of land which some call Palestine and some call Israel, and I would rather call Home.”
The Centerpiece Narrative, Farewell, Mr. Haffmann by Fred Cavayé, presented a transfixing humanist depiction of survival and resistance in Vichy France, as well as the tragic consequences of complicity and collaboration. Centerpiece Documentary, Bernstein’s Wall directed by Douglas Tirola, painted an inspiring and intimate portrait of legendary conductor Leonard Bernstein. Tirola who was in attendance for the film, unearthed voluminous audio and film recordings of the maestro talking about his philosophy, politics and personal life, turning his life story into a call to action to bring freedom and respect to all people.
Co-presented with KQED Live, the exclusive, hour-long Special Preview of the upcoming series The U.S. and the Holocaust, directed by Ken Burns, Lynn Novick, and Sarah Botstein examined America’s response to one of the greatest humanitarian crises in history. The series, which premieres on PBS this fall, sheds light on what the United States government and the American people knew and did as the catastrophe unfolded in Europe. The series also explores the role American white supremacy played in informing the policies of the Third Reich, and the influence of this history on today’s most pressing social issues like immigration and rising white nationalist hate.
Earlier in the day, JFI welcomed film and Jewish community leaders to KQED headquarters in San Francisco for an intimate conversation with Botstein about the series and the necessity of film in Holocaust education curriculums today. The Castro screening was followed by an extended conversation with Botstein and Novick, moderated by former KQED Forum host Michael Krasny. The film and discussion were met with standing ovations by a nearly sold-out crowd at the Castro Theatre.
The World Premiere of Remember This, starring David Strathairn, was similarly met by a standing ovation at the Castro Theatre. The film is the screen adaptation of a one-man play, also starring Strathairn, that recounts the life of Polish diplomat and Holocaust witness Jan Karski in harrowing, mesmerizing detail. Strathairn, directors Derek Goldman and Jeff Hutchens, and producer Eva Anisko were joined by moderator Carey Perloff for a post-screening Q&A that led to a galvanizing discussion of the lessons that Karksi’s life and work have to offer the world today. Remember This was the recipient of a 2021 JFI Completion Grant, one of several JFI supported films that screened at SFJFF42. Other 2021 Completion Grantees at the Festival included I will take your shadow by Ayala Shoshana Guy and A Reel War: Shalal by Karnit Mandel, which screened as a special Sneak Preview.
Oakland-based director Pratibha Parmar and producer Shaheen Haq’s latest documentary My Name is Andrea made its West Coast Premiere as the SFJFF42 Local Spotlight film at the Castro Theatre. The film centers around the life of Andrea Dworkin, who became one of the most controversial figures of the 20th century as a radical feminist writer and public intellectual who called out sexism and rape culture long before the #MeToo movement. My Name is Andrea received a standing ovation and was preceded by the presentation of the Mill Valley Film Festival’s Mind The Gap Award to Parmar in a partnership between JFI and the California Film Institute. My Name is Andrea was the inaugural recipient of the JFI/JSP Momentum Award in January 2022.
Additional highlights included Repairing the World: Stories from the Tree of Life, a documentary by local filmmaker Patrice O’Neill and produced by former JFI Filmmaker in Residence Charene Zalis that shines a light on efforts to build solidarity between marginalized communities in the aftermath of the deadliest antisemitic attack in U.S. history in Pittsburgh, PA. The film was one of three Take Action documentary features that screened at the festival, aimed at both educating audiences on the most pressing social issues of our time, and giving viewers the tools to take action in their own communities.
Other Take Action films included Gretchen Stoeltje’s feature Shouting Down Midnight, which focuses on Texas State Senator Wendy Davis filibuster for abortion rights, and To The End, Rachel Lears’ profile of four young women of color leading the fight against climate change in the U.S and advocating for a Green New Deal.
Israeli director Zvi Landsman similarly moved audiences with an illuminating screening of his documentary The Therapy, which follows the experiences of two gay men who underwent Ultra-Orthodox conversion therapy in Israel. SFJFF42 presented three thematic sidebars that grouped films on the basis of their content and shared potential to catalyze conversations among audiences.
The Therapy screened as part of Radiant Truths: Seeing Beyond Ourselves, a sidebar focused on films that embodied the idea of “multiple truths” by sharing a multiplicity of (sometimes contradictory) ideas and experiences. Present Tense: Contested Histories — which focused on questions of whose stories become the popular narrative, and whose remain hidden from view — featured A Reel War: Shalal, Tantura, and The Forgotten Ones, among others. Both Opening and Closing Night films Karaoke and Let It Be Morning were part of a spotlight called Awakenings: Stories of Transformation which posed the question: what moves us from a space of inertia to action, in our lives and in the world? Additional films in the sidebar included Alegría, And I Was There, and More Than I Deserve.
Beyond the Screen: JFI Filmmakers in Residence
SFJFF42 hosted JFI’s current cohort of Filmmakers in Residence, who traveled from around the world to experience the festival and participate in in-person workshops, trainings, and critiques of their projects in progress. The Filmmaker Residency provides creative, marketing, and production support for emerging and established filmmakers whose projects explore and expand thoughtful consideration of Jewish history, life, culture and identity.
The Residents received industry mentorship and project development led by Marcia Jarmel, Director of Filmmaker Services, and renowned filmmaker and educator Judith Helfand. The gathering marked the first time since early 2020 when JFI Residents have come together in person to discuss their films. The Residents also previewed excerpts from their films for JFI supporters, attending filmmakers, and community leaders at the Festival’s annual Shabbat Dinner, hosted at KQED.
“It was tremendous to welcome our Filmmakers in Residence to the festival this year! Meeting face to face deepened relationships and trust and enhanced the impact of our workshops while connecting our far-flung residents with the JFI community,” said Marcia Jarmel, Director of Filmmaker Services. “These kinds of experiences are vital to recharging the passions of our residents on the long road to making an independent Jewish film, a key role JFI is playing in the Jewish filmmaking world.”
Helfand’s latest film Love & Stuff, which explores the transformative power of parenting, also screened as SFJFF’s free Mitzvah Series film at the Castro Theatre. Residents attended this and other SFJFF42 programs including the screening of Annie Berman’s (’22 Filmmaker in Residence) new documentary The Faithful: The King, The Pope, The Princess, a witty, frequently surreal reflection on three of the most photographed individuals of all time and the people who worship their images.
SFJFF42 brought audiences back to theaters for a bold and thought-provoking selection of films that responded to the challenge of our times and pushed the boundaries of Jewish storytelling. The 2022 Festival saw a flurry of screenings and premieres of JFI-supported films, and new opportunities for established and emerging filmmakers to develop their craft through the Filmmaker Residency Program. JFI also deepened its commitment to building collaborative relationships with local media arts partners like KQED and the California Film Institute, and will continue to expand on this work with future programming intended to reach audiences within and beyond the Bay Area Jewish community.
The Jewish Film Institute (JFI) is a nonprofit organization that champions bold films and filmmakers that expand and evolve the Jewish story for audiences everywhere. JFI does this through the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, year-round exhibitions, its Completion Grants and Filmmakers in Residence programs, and its educational and archival programs. For more information on JFI, please visit www.jfi.org.