By Lonnie Burstein Hewitt
For 22 years, San Diego’s Jewish Film Festival has been presenting movies from all over the world about different facets of the Jewish experience. And now, even more than ever, you don’t have to be Jewish to find a movie to love.
This year’s selection includes films from 15 different countries, including heartwarming dramas, romantic comedies, incisive documentaries, and a special free program of short films from emerging directors.
There are films that deal with the coming together of opposites: young and old, straight and gay, deaf and hearing, left-wing and right-wing, Jews and Muslims.
There are films about historical events, not only the Holocaust, but also the Soviet purges of the 1930s and the virtually unknown long march from Ethiopia to the Sudanase border in the 1980s by thousands of Ethiopian Jews hoping to immigrate to Israel.
There are bio-pics about Gustav Mahler and Jascha Heifetz, each so full of music it’s like going to a concert, and the not-so-musical lives of Henry Kissinger, Tony Curtis, and Otto Frank (Anne’s father), as well as the lower-profile Polish Catholic priest who discovered and set out to reclaim his Jewish roots.
There’s a Teen Day, featuring “Kaddish for a Friend,” a film chosen by the festival’s teen-age focus group, and there’s a Family Day for preschoolers, featuring “Shalom Sesame Street.” Want a few laughs? See “Jews in ‘Toons,” with a special appearance by Mike Reiss, writer/producer for “The Simpsons.” Or “Jewish Food For Thought,” a series of animated pieces about life with his physicist father by Hanan Harchol.
“Our theme this year is The Power of Hope,” said Sandra Kraus, who has been the festival’s producer for the past five years. A longtime member of the local arts community, her background includes event planning at MCASD-La Jolla, designing costumes at the La Jolla Playhouse, and directing shows at the JCC’s Garfield Theatre and other venues.
“We believe we have an obligation to remember and honor the past, but we also believe it’s important to move forward and provide hope for the future,” Kraus said.
Which means not so many films about the Holocaust, unless they’re really unique. And more films about disparate people discovering their commonalities, like the growing friendship between an orthodox Jewish boy and the son of a prominent imam in Brooklyn (“David”), or the comically complicated relationship between a mild-mannered Israeli professor and a spicy Mexican salsa dancer (“Salsa Tel Aviv,” shown in collaboration with San Diego’s Latino Film Festival.)
The selection committee consists of 12 members, plus Kraus. They have their tentacles out in all directions, soliciting submissions, reading reviews, traveling to other Jewish film fests. (There are currently 80 of them in the U.S.) In April, they start screening films for the following February. “We already have 50 films waiting for next year,” Kraus said.
If you go
22nd annual Jewish Film Festival, sponsored by the Leichtag Foundation Feb. 9-19
• Clairemont Reading Cinemas Town Square 14 • Carlsbad Village Theatre • Edwards San Marcos Stadium 18 • Ultra Star Mission Valley • Garfield Theatre • JCC La Jolla
• ‘Mabul (The Flood)’: As he prepares for his bar mitzvah, Mabul, the much-bullied son of dysfunctional parents, manages to bond with the autistic older brother he never really knew. (Israel) • ‘Prima Primavera’: A Don Quixote-ish man witnesses a violent robbery and flees from the robber’s revenge, with his unlikely companion, a young gypsy girl with a questionable past. (Hungary/Bulgaria/UK/Netherlands) • ‘The Agony and the Ecstasy of Phil Spector: Genius or madman?’: Time Magazine called this documentary about the childhood, career, and murder trial of the music man who created the legendary Wall of Sound in the late 1950s, “A psycho-profile you can dance to.” (USA/UK)