The 41st San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, which begins this week, looks to the past to gain a better historical perspective about the present and most likely the future.
This theme emerges in more than 50 features of the program, a slate dominated by fiction films inspired by real people and real situations.
The festival, which returns this year with live screenings (July 24-25 at the Castro in San Francisco), while offering a packed virtual schedule (July 22-Aug. 1) is essentially two opening nights with two good options. The Holocaust drama “Persian Lessons” is being performed at the Castro Theater on July 24. The Sundance documentary, “Misha and the Wolves,” is available to watch at home starting July 22. The festival ends with the truth-based thriller “Plan A”, a raucous drama about a shocking plot after World War II to poison a German water system. It will be available to stream throughout the festival, but only to Bay Area viewers.
The festival’s Freedom of Expression honor will be presented to renowned Polish director Agnieszka Holland, and her film “Charlton,” an Oscar-shortlisted biopic on Czech healer Jan Mikoोलek of her time, is on the event’s virtual schedule.
Here are five movies to watch.
“Persian Lessons”: This opening night selection benefits from strong performances, evocative cinematography, and a gripping Holocaust-themed premise. Most of the action takes place in a German concentration camp, the new home for the quick-witted Giles (ideally Nahuel Pérez Biscayart). Giles is a Belgian Jew whose life is saved when he convinces the suspected SS that he is Persian (Iranian), a guise that captures the imagination of an officer (Lars Eidinger) who oversees the kitchen staff. and wants to learn Persian. A survivor through and through, Giles creates his own version of the language. Director Vadim Perelman (“House of Sand and Fog”) fills every frame with tension and period detail, and comes up with an ending that will leave you in tears. Although the screenplay makes some miscalculations, giving a U-turn to the characters’ personalities doesn’t make sense. Yet it is a well made and intense drama. Description: Screening July 24 at 8:15 pm at the Castro Theater.
“Forecast: Notes on Living”: This grueling but rewarding documentary celebrates the life of its subject — Bay Area documentary filmmaker Debra Chasnoff — and her decision to turn the camera after receiving news that she has stage 4 breast cancer. The camera captures all the disturbances: hope, fury, depression, loss. Chasanoff leaves us with a profound portrait of how dying family can make all the difference in the final moments of a person’s life. Description: Screening July 25 at the Castro Theater, including Q&A with the filmmakers; Also streaming through August 1.
“200 meters”: It’s a nightmare for every parent, receiving a call that your child has been admitted to the hospital. For Mustafa – the protagonist in the intense narrative feature of Amin Nayfeh – the journey to find his wounded son becomes more difficult as the 200 meters that separate them also include an Israeli outpost. Mustafa desperately tries to smuggle himself into the ride with the other passengers, whose motives are evident as the situation falls apart. As Mustafa, Ali Suleiman wins and rightly so, it’s a masterful performance composed of modest gestures, and astonishing body and vocal control. While the script revolves around a lot in the beginning, it keeps us hooked. Be sure not to miss the Oscar-nominated short “White Eye” from the movie. Description: Screen at Castro on July 24 at 11 a.m.; Also streaming through August 1.
“Wet Dog”: What is so successful is the adaptation of Damir Lukasevic’s celebrated autobiography how it sharply captures the voice of its main character, 15-year-old Sohail (influential newcomer Doguhan Kabadi). When he relocates with his parents to the mostly Muslim section of Berlin, his parents are cut off from their Jewish identity. But the rebel Sohail begins to get more used to his Iranian-Jewish heritage. Sohail makes for a complex character, a bully who wants to fit in, but finds himself a bully when he becomes more passionate about his religious and cultural identity. Lukasevi’s film tackles tough and difficult terrain and is both raw and alive. This is one of the best features in the program. Description: Streaming from August 1st
“neighbors”: My favorite film in the lineup remains director/writer Mano Khaleel’s gentle, humorous, and at times devastating, coming-of-age epic. Set in ’80s Syria, near the Turkish border, it looks at village life through the eyes of the expressive and adorable Cerro, a 6-year-old who is as curious as he is innocent. With an uncle he loves and a parent he respects, Cerro later learns how an us-versus-them approach destroys relationships and the joys of life. “Neighbors” is a beautiful film that looks at a community at large while touching on global issues. Prepare to cry well. Description: Streaming from August 1st
Contact Randy Myers at [email protected]
San Francisco Jewish Film Festival
When where: Live screening July 24-25 at the Castro Theatre, San Francisco; Virtual Screening July 22-August. 1
Ticket: Virtual Festival Pass $195-$245, Castro Live Screening Pass $55-$90, Individual Ticket (live and virtual) $15