The judges responsible for selecting the films for this year’s San Francisco Jewish Film Festival had their work cut out for them. The festival broke its record with some 450 entries — a testament to the fact that independent Jewish cinema is alive and thriving. Now in its 26th year, the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival is the oldest and largest of its kind. The event features a diverse two-and-a-half week program, with full-length features, documentaries and shorts from around the globe.
This year, the festival places special emphasis on the personal stories of Ethiopian Jews and Jews of color from around the world, with three films focused on the subject: Radu Mihaileanu’s drama “Live and Become” (2005) tells the tale of a young boy whose mother sneaks him into an airlift to Israel in 1984, during the rescue mission Operation Moses; David Gavro’s “Sisai” (2005) is a documentary that follows an adopted Ethiopian Israeli who returns to Ethiopia in search of his birth father, and Haya Zelka’s short, “Motherless Haya” (2004), focuses on an Ethiopian teenager’s experiences growing up an orphaned immigrant in the Israeli town of Ramla. Panel discussions examining ideas of ethnic and cultural identity will follow the screenings of “Sisai.”
Other festival highlights include the United States premiere of Swedish filmmaker Henry Meyer’s new film,“Four Weeks in June,” which received a Crystal Bear Award at the 2006 Berlin International Film Festival for its story of the intergenerational relationship between an 80-year-old Jewish woman named Lilly (Ghita Norby) and her disturbed neighbor, 20-something Sandra (Tuva Novotny). Also on the program is French filmmaker Karin Albou’s “La Petite Jérusalem” (2005), a controversial coming-of-age drama that offers a portrait of antisemitism in France and focuses on a Jewish woman from a religious family who struggles with the feelings she has for a Muslim man.
Recently made documentaries are on the program include Freida Lee Mock’s “Wrestling With Angels,” which examines the work and private life of renowned American playwright Tony Kushner, and the United States premiere of Dan Katzir’s “Yiddish Theater: A Love Story,” which offers a portrait ofthe world of Yiddish theater. The latter film focuses on the life of Folksbiene founder Zypora Spaisman, who died in 2002.
The festival will present screenings and events at venues in San Francisco, Berkeley, Mountain View and San Rafael.
San Francisco Jewish Film Festival; July 20-Aug. 7; for schedules, locations and further information, call the listed number or visit the Web site. (925-275-9490 or www.sfjff.org)