Thursday, July 28, 2011

The 2011 San Francisco Jewish Film Festival: Uplifting and Serious Films for Discerning Fans

More than 58 films from 16 countries are being screened at this year’s San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, and the variety of celluloid offerings is sure to please the most discerning film fans.

The festival opened in San Francisco at the Castro Theatre with "Mabul (The Flood)" which meshes the biblical story of a great flood with a modern-day dysfunctional family. Yoav Rotman, the young Isreali star of the film, was congratulated over and over at the opening night party at the Swedish American Hall, while his mother stood nearby beaming. The hors d’oeuvres were superb and the cocktails were stiff, and the large crowd moved from room to room for taste treats and to chat up fellow filmerati.

Executive Director Peter Stein was joined by his partner Brian Freeman, and Corey Tong, Jenni Olson, Dan Wohlfeiler, and San Francisco Pride Grand Marshal Aaron Belkin made up some of the LGBT film contingent.

Actor Kirk Douglas was honored with the festival’s Freedom of Expression Award on July 24 for his brave action in demanding that blacklisted "Spartacus" script writer Dalton Trumbo be given credit in 1960. Douglas’ philanthropy was praised, as was his brilliance at playing forceful characters in such films as "Out of the Past," "Paths of Glory," and "Lust for Life" which were on display on film clips. Douglas also played an over-the-top Viking in "The Vikings" that seethes with authentic violent excesses and bold histrionics.

What was largely missing from the ceremony is that Douglas not only re-learned to speak after a stroke 15 years ago, but he is also an inspiration to the tens of thousands who suffer strokes every year. Douglas seemed to be enjoying himself and he was buoyed by the 1,400-person standing ovations to and from the stage. Too many people do not pursue a life as a stroke survivor and isolate themselves in their homes. Douglas not only speaks in public, he was a witty and clever presenter at this year’s Academy Awards ceremony. He was equally witty and clever on the Castro Theatre’s stage at the Jewish Film Festival.

The festival ends on July 28 with the closing night film "100 Voices: A Journey Home" and live performances should not be missed. Think Al Jolson’s dramatic singing finale in the first sound movie "The Jazz Singer," and this will be ten times more intense with four singers and the Castro Theatre’s organ.

Most of the best festival films will be screened after July 28 in Berkeley, San Rafael, and Palo Alto. Checking will help in locating these movies.

LGBT themes can be found in "Mary Lou" and "The Queen Has No Crown." Both films were endorsed by celluloid connoisseurs. One film that delves into the betrayal of French Jews by their fellow citizens who collaborated with the occupying Nazis is "The Roundup." There are films for young adult viewers and even Israel’s first horror film. Israel has achieved more Academy Award nominations for its films than any other Middle Eastern country, and now it can claim a cinematic experience of movie characters yelling for help in Hebrew while facing a mindless bloodfest.

Karen Larsen and her publicity associates Ani Klose and Leo Wong again achieved a successful festival, and the only cloud in the cinematic sky was that Executive Director Peter Stein is retiring and he will be greatly missed. Hopefully his sensational award winning documentary "The Castro" will now be followed by equally fine future film projects.

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