36th San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, Presented by the Jewish Film Institute, Breaks Box Office Records with Highest Grossing Year of World Class Cinema, Inspiring Dialogue and Community Engagement in Bay Area
SAN FRANCISCO, CA (August 8, 2016) – The 36th San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, presented by the Jewish Film Institute, closed its San Francisco run on Sunday, July 31 with the West Coast Premiere of the inspiring documentary FOR THE LOVE OF SPOCK before moving the Festival to Berkeley, Oakland and San Rafael for an additional week of cinema, filmmaker guests and parties. Joining SFJFF36 at the Castro Theatre on Closing Night was director Adam Nimoy (son of film subject Leonard Nimoy), producer David Zappone and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine actor Chase Masterson. A packed Castro theatre gleefully whooped, whistled and cheered throughout the documentary that honors Leonard Nimoy, the man who immortalized the role of Spock in Star Trek: The Original Series. Festivities continued after the film with a reception on the Castro mezzanine.
The Festival drew together an all-time record audience of 40,000 for another year celebrating Jewish independent film and media which continued the Festival’s tradition of diverse, innovative and socially relevant programming and cemented its place as the largest and most esteemed Jewish film festival in the world. Produced over 18 days in five Bay Area cities, SFJFF36 saw the highest number of tickets sold in its 36-year history and a record number sold of All-Festival, Palo Alto, Marin and Next Wave Passes (for film goers ages 35 and under), along with a record year for the Jewish Film Institute in new memberships and donations.
“The record-breaking attendance that we witnessed this year is evidence that audiences feel a vital need come together in community to enjoy world class programming in a live interactive environment,” said JFI Executive Director Lexi Leban. “It is here that we can pause to make sense of our world, to be inspired by great storytelling, and to laugh and cry together in a collective space.” On technological and programmatic innovations this year, Leban added, “our Festival is a monumental community endeavor that would not be possible without the work and support of so many people. This year we tested some new programs with incredible success. Streaming TV and web series, panels and discussions on Facebook Live, and new partnerships with local celebrity chefs. We will continue to move in new and innovative directions in years to come.”
The Festival’s program, comprised of 67 films presented in five Bay Area cities, with attendance from over 50 filmmaker guests, was met with thunderous applause and engaging dialogue by diverse audiences of the Bay Area Jewish, independent film and media arts communities. Of its 67 films, from 15 countries, SFJFF36 featured 10 Big Nights, 4 World Premieres, 3 US Premieres, 2 North American Premieres, and 1 Film & Feast event. Many films were sellouts or received standing ovations including ON THE MAP, A TALE OF LOVE AND DARKNESS, NORMAN LEAR: JUST ANOTHER VERSION OF YOU, THE TENTH MAN, THE LAST LAUGH, THE SETTLERS, MR. GAGA, WRESTLING JERUSALEM, INDIGNATION, A GERMAN LIFE, CLASS DIVIDE and ROBERT KLEIN STILL CAN’T STOP HIS LEG.
The Festival opened with the California Premiere of THE TENTH MAN from Argentinian director Daniel Burman, about an Argentinian living in New York who returns to El Once, the Jewish district of his childhood in Buenos Aires, and becomes invested in its inhabitants lives. Burman, who was recently tapped to create the first Argentinian original series for Netflix, deftly mixed actors with regular residents of El Once, and stimulated audiences with deep insight into his creative process and Jewish roots.
SFJFF36 presented its annual Freedom of Expression Award – which honors the unfettered imagination that is the cornerstone of a just, free and open society – to television icon Norman Lear preceded by a screening of the documentary NORMAN LEAR: JUST ANOTHER VERSION OF YOU and then an onstage conversation between Mr. Lear and former SFJFF Executive Director Peter L. Stein. Lear, who created such ground-breaking television shows as ALL IN THE FAMILY, GOOD TIMES, MAUDE and THE JEFFERSONS and founded the political advocacy group People for the American Way. Lear took to the Castro stage amidst a prolonged standing ovation and was alternately candid, humorous, and introspective when discussing his life, legacy and the political climate of today. In an effort to expand the notion of what film festival attendance can be in the digital age, SFJFF36 live-streamed Lear’s conversation with Stein via Facebook Live, thereby bringing hundreds of viewers virtually to the Castro Theatre for this special event.
“Norman Lear was the perfect recipient of our Freedom of Expression Award,” said JFI Program Director Jay Rosenblatt. “He is a visionary and his television shows were daring, provocative and changed the medium forever. In addition to his creative output, his work with People for the American Way continues to foster freedom of thought, expression and religion. We were so honored to bestow our award to him and his presence was the highlight of this year’s festival.”
The Festival hosted the World Premiere of Aaron Davidman’s WRESTLING JERUSALEM, at the Castro, which was also designated as the SFJFF36 Local Spotlight. In the one-man-play turned feature film, Davidman portrays 17 distinct characters and personalities to explore the complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The intensely cinematic and evocative film earned Davidman and producer Sarah Geller standing ovations and sold out houses at its Festival screenings.
At the CinéArts at Palo Alto Square, SFJFF36 opened with the World Premiere of Dani Menkin’s ON THE MAP. Menkin (39 POUNDS OF LOVE, SFJFF 2005) has crafted an illuminating documentary about the 1977 Maccabi Tel Aviv Basketball team that rallied a nation around its David-and-Goliath pursuit of the 1977 European Championship. Palo Alto audiences, many of whom are Israeli immigrants that could remember that moment in history, applauded Menkin’s glowing and thoughtful film.
Back in San Francisco, audiences were treated to a sensational film and food pairing in celebration of director Roger Sherman’s IN SEARCH OF ISRAELI CUISINE, which chronicled James Beard Award winning chef Michael Solomonov’s exploration of different cultures and traditions that contribute to modern Israeli cuisine. Both Solomonov and Sherman were in attendance for the Castro screening, and patrons who had purchased a special ticket joined them at a sold-out Aaxte at the Swedish American Hall for a tasting of Chef Solomonov’s dishes reinterpreted by Bar Tartine, Mourad, Aziza and Aaxte.
The SFJFF36 Centerpiece Programs presented two stellar films that fit with larger Festival themes about humor and immigration in relation to Jewish identity. Centerpiece Documentary ROBERT KLEIN STILL CAN’T STOP HIS LEG delighted audiences with a behind-the-scenes look at famed comedian Robert Klein’s storied career, supported by interviews with admirers from Jerry Seinfeld to Jay Leno. Robert Klein was in attendance with director Marshall Fine and commandeered the Castro stage following the film, offering a hybrid Q&A/stand-up performance that had audiences laughing uncontrollably at his impressions of close friend Rodney Dangerfield. Centerpiece Narrative NATASHA, from acclaimed Jewish-Canadian writer/director David Bezmozgis (VICTORIA DAY, SFJFF 2010), is an adaptation of his widely-read short story of the same name, and explores a troubled relationship between two young people from Russian immigrant families in Toronto, anchored by remarkably assured performances from Alex Ozerov and Sasha K. Gordon. Audience dialogue around the film reflected the provocative and symbol-laden themes presented in the work.
Rounding out its Big Night presentations, the SFJFF36 Next Wave Spotlight film JOSHY delighted and challenged Next Wave audiences with its off-kilter humor and surprising poignancy. The film, which stars Alex Ross Perry, Thomas Middleditch, Nick Kroll, Jenny Slate and Aubrey Plaza among others, was a shining selection for Next Wave audiences, who filled the Castro Theatre for the film and reception with director Jeff Baena and producer Michael Zakin. Berkeley Big Night audiences were treated to the West Coast Premiere of Ferne Pearlstein’s THE LAST LAUGH, followed by a reception at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre. The provocative and star-laden documentary, which explores the role of the taboo in comedy, particularly the Holocaust, prompted a memorable Q&A with JFI Executive Director Lexi Leban, Pearlstein, and subjects Renee and Klaire Firestone.
Festival Sidebars and Special Programs
Other cinematic standouts included selections in the Jews and Germany festival sidebar, which presented works that explored truth and reconciliation in the Jewish and German context. In addition to GERMANS AND JEWS and THE PEOPLE VS. FRITZ BAUER, audiences were engrossed by A GERMAN LIFE, the starkly shot interview-documentary with Brunhilde Pomsel, former secretary to Joseph Goebbels, now 104 years old. This black and white film, interspersed with never before seen archival material, vividly bears witness to past atrocities while remaining relevant to global political trends today. Austrian co-directors Christian Krones and Florian Weigensamer accompanied audiences to Congregation Sha’ar Zahav for an extended post-film discussion.
Another sidebar titled Televisionaries presented three ground-breaking modern series from Israel. SFJFF 2010 Freedom of Expression Award recipient Sayed Kashua returned to the Festival with the first three episodes of his new series THE WRITER, a meta dark-comedy that chronicles the identity crisis of Kateb, the Palestinian-Israeli creator of popular show ARAB LABOR (Kashua is the show’s actual creator). Like Gideon Raff’s PRISONERS OF WAR at SFJFF 2013, the first two episodes of Amit Cohen’s espionage thriller FALSE FLAG had audiences clamoring for more. Finally, SFJFF36 debuted season two of SHTISEL, Israel’s first ever series about the Haredi community after showcasing episodes of season one at SFJFF 2014. Before the Festival, audiences were able to binge-watch the entire season one of SHTISEL on JFI On Demand.
Anchored by Centerpiece Narrative NATASHA, the SFJFF36 sidebar People of the Book – which celebrates the writer in Jewish film and culture – also featured a one-time-only sold out screening of James Schamus’ INDIGNATION in San Rafael and Natalie Portman’s directorial debut A TALE OF LOVE AND DARKNESS. In a first for SFJFF, Portman’s film was added by popular demand to the Festival slate following its sold out screening at the Jewish Film Institute’s 2016 WinterFest.
The SFJFF36 Take Action Day assembled a strong slate of social-justice and social-issues focused documentaries meant to inspire audiences to take action in the spirit of the Jewish value of Tikkun Olam (repairing the world), sponsored by the Alexander M. and June L. Maisin Foundation of the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund. Each film was followed by a post-film discussion moderated by award-winning documentary filmmaker Susan Stern that brought together the filmmakers and representatives of Bay Area advocacy organizations addressing the issues presented in the film.
The daylong program at the Castro kicked off with local film A NEW COLOR: THE ART OF BEING EDYTHE BOONE with director Mo Morris, and subject Edythe Boone, joined by Allison Elgart of the Equal Justice Society to talk about race, policing and community building in San Francisco and the East Bay. Tracy Droz Trago’s powerful and unflinching documentary ABORTION: STORIES WOMEN TELL inspired a fruitful discussion between audience members and representatives of NARAL Pro-Choice California and ACCESS: Women’s Health Justice. THE FREEDOM TO MARRY, about the fight for marriage equality in the LGBTQ community, was followed by a frank and dynamic panel discussion between director Eddie Rosenstein, Andrea Shorter of Out and Equal, Ruth MacFarlane of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Jo Michael of Equality California and Matt Foreman of the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund.
Evening programs included CLASS DIVIDE, the new HBO Documentary from Marc Levin (BRICK CITY, SLAM), about gentrification in the West Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan and followed by a riveting conversation with producer Mike Farrah, Leili Davari-Bitton of Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice, and Victor Rubin of PolicyLink, and AUDRIE & DAISY, the emotional examination of sexual abuse and peer-to-peer shaming in the digital age. Local directors Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk were joined by Esta Soler of Futures Without Violence, following the film.
Other special guests at the Festival included DISTURBING THE PEACE director Stephen Apkon, who talked with audiences for hours after his film about the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, FEVER AT DAWN actor Milan Schruff, who delighted audiences with his tales from the making of the film, SFJFF alumnus and award-winning director Shimon Dotan whose comprehensive film THE SETTLERS inspired frank and sustained discussion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and director Tomer Heymann, who attended the Festival in support of two documentaries, MR. GAGA and WHO’S GONNA LOVE ME NOW?
On the plethora of filmmaker guests in attendance at SFJFF36, Leban stated “filmmakers hold up a mirror to our world—they reflect back images of humanity that can inspire, educate, and provoke us. SFJFF affords audiences the opportunity to engage with the filmmakers and their work in intimate social settings and large community forums. We had an amazing lineup of 58 guests this year from Norman Lear and Robert Klein to important local luminaries of the independent film scene. This kind of live engagement keeps everyone coming back for more.”
With a generous grant from the Maxine & Jack Zarrow Family Foundation, SFJFF36 offered free tickets for single Jewish mothers with young children, including free child care at a nearby facility in order to “guarantee our community’s continued growth, diversification and reputation for inclusion,” said JFI Development Director Kim Bistrong. As recent studies suggest, single Jewish mothers can be excluded from the rich bevy of Bay Area Jewish cultural and communal experiences. Said attendee Diana N of the program: “I feel really touched that the Jewish community has not only gotten the memo that there are many of us SJMs (Single Jewish Moms) out there, but is actually providing the funding to make this event SJM-friendly. I feel really seen and nurtured by the Jewish community, and am very grateful.”
The Jewish Film Institute presented its 4th annual Film Movement Award to the short film WHAT CHEER? directed by Michael Slavens and starring Richard Kind. The award, presented in partnership with film distributor Film Movement, honors achievement in short filmmaking that expresses the Jewish experience in a unique, original, and meaningful way, or provides a fresh perspective on diversity within the Jewish community. The winners receive the option of a non-exclusive distribution deal with Film Movement, for their project to be released on DVD and via streaming, paired with a feature selected by the distributor.
About the Jewish Film Institute
The Jewish Film Institute and San Francisco Jewish Film Festival extends its thanks to all the generous contributors who make our work possible.
Premier Festival Sponsor
Sterling Bank and Trust/The Seligman Family Foundation
Premier Hospitality Sponsor
Orchard Hotels of San Francisco
Opening Night San Francisco
Steven and Bunny Fayne
Opening Night Palo Alto
The Bonnie and Marty Tenenbaum Foundation
Closing Night Sponsor
Gale Mondry and Bruce Cohen
Freedom of Expression
Lela and Gerry Sarnat
The Lisa and John Pritzker Family Fund
Foundation & Government Support
Alexander M. and June L. Maisin Foundation
Barbro Osher Pro Suecia Foundation
Bernard Osher Jewish Philanthropies Foundation
Consulate General of the Federal Republic of Germany
Consulate General of Israel, Pacific Northwest Region
The Frederick J. Isaac Fund of the Jewish Community Foundation of the East Bay
Grants for the Arts / San Francisco Hotel Tax Fund
The Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma Counties
John & Marcia Goldman Foundation
Lisa and Douglas Goldman Fund
The Lisa and John Pritzker Family Fund
Maxine and Jack Zarrow Family Foundation
Nathan Cummings Foundation
National Endowment for the Arts
The Seligman Family Foundation
Victor and Lorraine Honig Fund of the Common Counsel Foundation
Walter and Elise Haas Fund
Wells Fargo Foundation
William and Flora Hewlett Foundation
Business & Community Sponsors
Berkeley FILM Foundation
Birthright Israel Foundation / Northwest Region
The Contemporary Jewish Museum
Craig Harrison’s Expressions of Excellence! TM
Kol Hadash: Northern California Community for Humanistic Judaism
Krevsky Fine Art and Services
Osterweis Capital Management
Schoenberg Family Law Group
Sinai Memorial Chapel – Chevra Kadisha
Sterling Bank & Trust
Easy Bay Express
J. the Jewish News Weekly of Northern California
SF Bay Times
Anita Bowen Photography
B&B Kitchen & Wine Bar
East & West Gourmet Afghan Foods – Bolani
Frames Per Sound
Lagunitas Brewing Company
Leftwich Event Specialists, Inc.
Martin Lawrence Galleries
Pat Mazzera Photography
Poesia Italian Restaurant
Saul’s Restaurant and Delicatessen
Sullivan & Botello Events
Taste Catering and Event Planning
House of Bagels
San Francisco Magazine