San Diego International Jewish Film Festival kicked off its 30th year Thursday night. Here’s a preview of what’s to come in the next 10 days.
This year the San Diego International Jewish Film Festival showcases five venues, 13 countries and 35 films. That’s a long way from its roots showing a few films on 16mm in a gymnasium.
“We’re thrilled to be at this point,” said Chris Fink, festival and features selection committee chair. “And I’d like to give a shout out for the women who were trailblazers 30 years ago, Joyce Axlerod and Lynnette Allen, who put five films on a weekend at the JCC and started this trend. It has grown in terms of quantity, quality and community engagement over the years. And it is now the largest Jewish cultural event in San Diego. And we’re proud to bring it to the community.”
I recall working with Allen, checking splices on the 16mm film prints and climbing a ladder to thread the projector. This year films are screening at Reading Clairemont Town Square Cinemas, Museum of Photographic Arts, David and Dorothea Garfield Theatre, La Paloma Theatre and White Labs.
Last year, the festival decided to add the word International to its title and this year the festival boasts four films that were submitted for international Oscars: “The Mover,” “Those Who Remained,” “Incitement” and “Wolkenbruch’s Wondrous Journey into the Arms of a Shiksa.”
Fink said she hopes the new name helps correct misconceptions people may have about a Jewish film festival.
“I think many think that all the films are Holocaust films,” Fink said. “We have Jewish and Israeli stories. We also have films with no Jewish content that might be by a Jewish director and we bring it to town to showcase the work of a Jewish artist, the director. (This year’s films) represents what we bring to town, which is really beyond the scope of Israeli and Jewish film but truly international stories we feel will resonate with many audiences, which is why we would like to invite the entire community to come.”
The festival films also represent a broad range of stories and genres. There are student shorts from Tel Aviv as well as Brews and Views pairing shorts from around the globe with beer at White Labs. There’s wacky action in “Mossad!,” heartfelt humor in “Standing Up, Falling Down” starring Billy Crystal and Ben Schwartz. Documentaries look to a Holocaust survivor who made a career of designing bathing suits (“Mrs. G”); portraits of film critic Pauline Kael (“What She Said”), baseball player Moe Berg who was also an OSS spy (“The Spy Behind Home Plate”); and of Playboy artist Art Paul (“Art Paul of Playboy: The Man Behind the Bunny”). There are also dramas, thrillers, social commentaries, action comedies and more.
On opening night, Israeli Dani Menkin presented his documentary “Picture of His Life” (it screens again on Feb. 18 at La Paloma).
“It’s a movie I co-directed with a Yonatan Nir and it’s about a wildlife photographer going to shoot a polar bear underwater,” Menkin explained. “It sounds crazy. It is crazy. I don’t think your listeners should try it at home. But here’s a guy that took all the biggest iconic pictures you can imagine with big animals and he does it with a unique technique of face to face without protection. Yonathan and I followed his quest to take the last piece of picture he needs for his portfolio. He’s close to being 70 years old and we’re really trying to understand who is the man behind the camera and we’re telling his personal story while he’s taking this almost impossible quest. In any of my films there is a quest of the hero and I’m there to document it. But I construct my movies as if they were feature narrative films.”
One of the great things about the film festival is how it encourages discussions about the films by having filmmakers present their films, organizing discussion panels or just having presenters to give the films a context.
“I love interacting with the audience,” Menkin said of his previous experiences screening films at the film festival. “For me, it’s an opportunity to see the movie that I’ve been working on for so long and it’s wonderful to see that the audience laughs, they cry.”
Menkin has a second documentary, “Aulcie,” also screening at the festival, Feb. 23 at Reading Clairemont.
The festival closes with “Douze Point.”
“It took me by surprise,” Fink said. “It is charming, cute, funny, and in French. We wanted to end the festival on a very happy, fun, lively note, and this fit the bill. So I hope that others will find it as entertaining as I did.”
There is something for everyone’s taste as the San Diego International Jewish Film Festival continues through Feb. 23. I will be presenting the screening of “What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael” at 4:30 p.m., Saturday at MOPA.
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