August 14, 2013 — San Francisco — The 33rd San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, Life Through a Jew(ish) Lens, wrapped today after a successful 19-day run in an astounding nine venues in five Bay Area cities, broke box office records and charted bold new territory.
The Festival closed its 33rd edition with its highest grossing box office year in festival history with over 36,000 attendees (a 20% increase) and filmmakers, musicians and industry guests from eight countries. With total box office up 21% and Young Adult Passes up an astonishing 72% this year’s festival was one for the record books. Sellouts this year included: AMERICAN JERUSALEM in San Francisco and Palo Alto; THE ATTACK in Berkeley; HANNAH ARENDT in San Francisco; RUE MANDAR in Palo Alto and San Rafael; THE TRIALS OF MUHAMMAD ALI in Oakland at the New Parkway; and THE ZIG ZAG KID in San Rafael.
“This year we are celebrating a number of firsts,” said Lexi Leban, Executive Director. “We were thrilled to bring to our ever-expanding audiences innovative and new programming. We built new cultural bridges within and beyond the Jewish community, presented packed art and live music-integrated programs in three new venues, and introduced audiences to a compelling international Spotlight on TV attracting a whole new generation of youthful participants alongside our loyal core audiences.”
Enthusiastic ticket-buyers attended 145 screenings and 62 unique programs during the first and largest Jewish Film Festival in the world, known as the premier launch pad for Jewish film in the United States. Films from 17 countries unspooled, and the festival welcomed more than 60 visiting filmmakers, artists, scholars and guest musicians from around the world. The 33rd San Francisco Jewish Film Festival unfolded July 25 – August 12 at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco; Jewish Community Center of San Francisco; California Theatre in Berkeley; for the fist time the New Parkway Theater during Oakland Art Murmur in Oakland; Piedmont Theatre in Oakland; The Grand Lake Theater in Oakland for the first time; CineArts in Palo Alto; the Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center in San Rafael. With 9 total screening venues and 2 party venues, the new locations were a huge success and brought in many first time festival goers of all ages
The festival kicked off with a rousing family friendly Opening Night screening of THE ZIGZAG KID with director Vincent Bal and actress Jessica Zeijlmaker on stage for a very entertaining Q & A. The exuberance of the film rubbed off on the crowd and many noted that it was one of the best opening night films that they ever experienced.
Program Director Jay Rosenblatt commented, “This was yet another banner year for SFJFF, with memorable special events and heightened levels of intelligent, passionate discourse and discussions,” including a packed house for HANNAH ARENDT and the following lively talk with scholar Ron Feldman at Congregation Sha’ar Zahav.
SFJFF launched a new Friday program, Stories of Change: Repairing the World One Film at a Time at the Castro Theater. The program line-up featured a full day of inspiring stories of social justice and personal transformation and focused on issues ranging from environmental and women’s empowerment issues to peace to criminal justices issues. Highlights included DANCING IN JAFFA, GIDEON’S ARMY and AMERICAN COMMUNE. The series featured a new collaboration with the Sundance Institute Stories of Change program and provided a dynamic free panel discussion facilitated by Wendy Levy, Senior Consultant with the Sundance Institute and acclaimed Bay Area filmmakers, and artists including Debra Chasnoff, Chris Johnson, and Patrice O’Neill.
This year’s Centerpiece film, THE ATTACK, continued SFJFF’s commitment to show thought provoking and challenging films. In the Q & A following the screening at the Castro, director Ziad Doueiri passionately described the creative dramatic decisions he made and the price he has had to pay by shooting in Israel with the film being banned in his native country Lebanon. Days later people were still talking about this film.
The FIRST COUSIN ONCE REMOVED screening with Freedom of Expression recipient Alan Berliner in conversation with Program Director Jay Rosenblatt drew a large crowd of filmmakers and documentary aficionados. In discussing his work Berliner displayed the same intelligence and creativity that make his films such enduring works of art.
“Today some of the most riveting work is happening on television,” says Leban. In an expansive and bold move, SFJFF featured a Spotlight on TV and audiences responded enthusiastically. Gideon Raff, the creator of the Israeli Hit TV series PRISONERS OF WAR that inspired the Emmy-Award wining Showtime drama HOMELAND appeared live in conversation on the Castro stage declaring, “I’m gay and I am Jewish! What took you so long to invite me?” Leban facilitated a dynamic clip show and interview with Raff who described side-by-side scenes from the two hit series and shared his creative process, describing the art of adaptation, the history of the issue of POW’s in Israel, and his new FX series TYRANT.
The festival continued its long relationship with the hit Israeli television series, ARAB LABOR Season 4. SFJFF not only held the International premiere of Season 4 but also brought actor Norman Issa who plays the main character Amjad to the festival for a spirited Q & A at the Castro. Loyal fans of this groundbreaking program were not disappointed as Issa shared his views on the impact this show has had in Israel and beyond.
Kenny Hotz, the irreverent comedian and former writer on South Park, wowed audiences with the hottest comedy show in Canada, TRIUMPH OF THE WILL – not to be confused with the Leni Riefenstahl film of the same name. An enthusiastic crowd of Hotz super-fans and people discovering him for the first time, laughed hysterically as Hotz presented the US premiere of his newest show at the JCC SF. Hotz stopped at nothing to succeed in a series of Herculean tasks: landing his 75-year-old mother a boyfriend, getting Jews to build a mosque for Muslims and reconciling with the French.
THE A WORD, a new Israeli series currently being adapted for American television, focuses on a family who discovers that their son has autism. The series has revolutionized communication about autism and other disabilities in Israel and enchanted Bay Area audiences in Piedmont and Palo Alto.
SFJFF welcomed rising actor/director Alex Karpovsky to the Castro stage to a diverse crowd as Associate Programmer Joshua Moore sat down with Karpovsky to discuss his burgeoning career. A clip reel of Karpovsky’s films and a screening of his newest film RED FLAG followed. After the screening Young Adult pass holders were treated to an exclusive meet and greet reception with Karpovsky on the Castro mezzanine. A star of HBO’s hit comedy series, Girls, Lena Denham’s TINY FURNITURE and the upcoming Coen Brothers film INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS, Karpovsky is one of America’s hottest emerging filmmakers and actors.
A nearly sold out audience jammed the Castro Theatre as Crystal Monee Hall (front woman of the Mickey Hart Band) and her band belted out songs that explored Amy Winehouse’s influences and connected her stunning musical gifts to the present. The film, AMY WINEHOUSE: THE DAY SHE CAME TO DINGLE, transported the audience back to the wild, stormy night Winehouse arrived in Dingle, a remote town in Ireland, to perform in a tiny church with seating for 80. Backed by only a guitarist and bass player, Winehouse delivered stripped-down, spine-tingling renditions of her songs, including the hit “Back to Black.”
SFJFF introduced a whole new kind of festival program this year with ART/TECH. Held at the Rayko Photo Center in San Francisco, ART/TECH focused on the exploration of multi-platform storytelling. “As the digital age changes our means of media production, artists and filmmakers are exploring ways to bring art and stories to more people in more ways than ever before,” said Josh Moore, who introduced filmmakers Theo Rigby (IMMIGRANT NATION) and Liz Nord (JERUSALEM UNFILTERED). The two filmmakers showcased their innovative techniques for expanding the art of storytelling into the modern age, as the crowd interacted with each project first hand. Leveraging short films, online platforms, geo-locative mobile apps and more, Art/Tech was an exciting introduction to the future!
AWAKE ZION played to new audiences at the beautiful Grand Lake Theater in Oakland. Filmmaker Monica Haim appeared in person to introduce the premiere of her film to the enthusiastic crowd. The documentary, which explores the relationship between Rastafarians and Jews, highlights the cross-cultural connections between the two communities and honors the full diversity of Jewish identity and expression. The screening was followed by a live reggae dub performance by Dr. Israel and Dub Gabriel and inspired dancing in the aisles!
The Castro and Palo Alto screenings of AMERICAN JERUSALEM: JEWS AND THE MAKING OF SAN FRANCISCO were sold out events. Audiences were eager and proud to learn about the unique history Jews played in the founding of this great American city. The film was preceded by the short film SHANGHAI STRANGERS directed by famed Chinese actress Joan Chen, who attended the festival for her first time at the Castro screening for a unique cross-cultural Q & A.
Another sellout was the screening of THE TRIALS OF MUHAMMAD ALI at the New Parkway Theater during Oakland Art Murmur. SFJFF collaborated with Broaklyn Film and Theater Company and brought diverse audiences out for Bill Seigel’s award-winning film about Muhammad Ali, the conscientious objector and convert to the Nation of Islam. Audiences ordered pizza and beer at the new Parkway’s pizza pub and discussed the film in the café long after the screening was over.
The Berkeley Big Night Program featured one of the raciest screenings presented at SFJFF in years. Director Jill Soloway entertained audiences with AFTERNOON DELIGHT, calling it her ‘post-post feminist film.” The issues raised in the film: sex, identity, motherhood, breast feeding, abortion resonated with the 30-40-somethings in the crowd and the entire audience laughed hysterically through the scenes featuring Jane Lynch as the protagonist’s narcissistic therapist. Soloway talked about writing the film, her collaborative relationship with Producer Jen Chaiken (also in attendance), her experience winning the Director’s Award at Sundance and a new series that she is writing for Amazon. AFTERNOON DELIGHT will be released commercially between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur!
SFJFF kicked off a new tradition this year and featured two matinee shows for children and families first at the Castro in SF and then at the Grand Lake Theater in Oakland. Sóla, the 7-year old daughter of executive director Leban, introduced AMERICAN TAIL. Sóla told an audience of children and nostalgic adults that the animated classic about a family of Russian Jewish mice who come to America was a little scary and emotional but that they should stick with it. And they did. Audiences sang, “There are no Cats in America” and “Somewhere Out There” and held onto their kleenex for the tough scenes. The 1982 musical ANNIE, featured in the documentary BROADWAY MUSICALS, A JEWISH LEGACY, played as a Sing-Along at the Grand Lake Theater in Oakland and brought out an adorable crowd of new audience members aged 4-14. There were several Annie look-alikes in attendance and everyone belted out “ Hard Knock Life” and “Tomorrow” at the top of their lungs. Welcome to the next generation SFJFF!
The Festival also offered many other opportunities for film lovers to meet new and returning talent. Guests packed the Opening Night Bash at the Swedish American Hall and the filmmaker party at the Eureka Restaurant and Lounge. The Festival transformed the Mezzanine of the Castro into a party and reception space and hosted several Mezzanine meet and greets following Alex Karpovsky’s RED FLAG, Gideon Raff’s POW’S, the World Premiere of AMERICAN JERUSALEM, the controversial Polish film AFTERMATH and the Israeli transgender story LIES IN THE CLOSET.
About the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival
The San Francisco Jewish Film Festival (SFJFF), the world’s first and largest Jewish film festival proudly celebrated its 32nd anniversary. SFJFF’s mission is to promote awareness and appreciation of the diversity of the Jewish people, provide a dynamic and inclusive forum for exploration of and dialogue about the Jewish experience, and encourage independent filmmakers working with Jewish themes. The SFJFF’s signature summer Film Festival, monthly screenings, youth mentorship program (New Jewish Filmmaking Project), publications, and online resources have made SFJFF a leader in the use of media arts to foster cultural understanding. Annually attracting thousands of filmgoers, the SFJFF is world-renowned for the diversity and breadth of its audiences and films.
For more information, please log on to www.sfjff.org or telephone 415-621-0556.