Palo Alto Weekly

Arts & Entertainment - July 30, 2010

Films from far and wide

Jewish Film Festival screens a diverse array of movies in Palo Alto

by Robin Migdol

Teenage girls involved in a diplomatic struggle. A humble toy-maker. Street musicians. Professional baseball players.

Chances are, that list didn't necessarily scream "Jewish" as you were reading it. But these diverse people — some fictional — are just a few of the subjects featured in movies at the annual San Francisco Jewish Film Festival. The films hail from various nations, all meant to celebrate and challenge the idea of what it means to be Jewish today.

This year, the SFJFF celebrates its 30th year with feature films, documentaries, short films and television episodes. Local screenings are at the CineArts theater at Palo Alto Square, where a four-day program of 24 films will be shown from July 31 through Aug. 3.

On July 31 at noon, the festival will screen "A Small Act," a documentary about Kenyan Chris Mburu. After being sponsored through school by Hilde Back — a German Jew who lost all her family in the Holocaust — Mburu decides to pay her kindness forward and create a scholarship fund for Kenyan schoolchildren. Praised by critic Roger Ebert as "heartwarming," the film is a portrait of both the poverty and spirit of Kenya, and of the effect a small act of generosity can have on many people's lives.

Films to be shown later on July 31 are: "Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story," "A Film Unfinished," "Saviors in the Night," "Father's Footsteps" and the short film "Potchki Press."

The Aug. 1 program features two films that portray the effects of violence. "My So-Called Enemy," shown at noon, follows six teenage Israeli and Palestinian girls who attend a camp in 2002 in the United States called "Building Bridges for Peace." The program is an attempt to bring members of both sides of the deadly Israeli-Palestinian conflict together in understanding and acceptance.

Though the 10-day camp experience is filled with tense discussions and even arguments, in the seven years after camp many of the girls are confronted with surprising friendships and a new perspective on the violence. Director Lisa Gossels said that the women portrayed in the film help to break down stereotypes of Palestinians, Israelis, Muslims and Jews.

"Beyond standing on its own as a work of art, 'My So-Called Enemy' needs to be credible as a tool for dialogue," Gossels said in a statement. "We certainly don't hear the stories of young women like (those featured in the film) Adi, Gal, Inas, Rawan and Rezan. Therein lies the power of film — to tell individual stories that illuminate larger ideas."

On the other side of the world, the Argentine film "Anita," to be shown at 6:30 p.m. on Aug. 1, grapples with the effects of violence on marginalized members of society — the disabled and their families. First-time actress Alejandra Manzo plays Anita, a bright, inquisitive young Jewish Argentine woman with Down syndrome. (Manzo herself has Down syndrome.) Anita is left to fend for herself and rely on the kindness of others on the streets of Buenos Aires after a terrorist bombing separates her from her mother and brother.

Based on the real 1994 bombing of the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association that killed 85 people, the film was praised by critic Robert Avila as "wrenching, lovely, sufused with life."

Other screenings on Aug. 1 are: the feature film "My Perestroika"; short films "The Worst Company in the World" and "Baaba the Sheep Sets Out to Bring Love to the World"; and three new episodes from Season 2 of the Israeli sitcom "Arab Labor."

The Aug. 2 program, which runs from 2 to 8:30 p.m., focuses on young adults in the Jewish community struggling to find their places. "Surrogate," "Te Extrano" and "Bena" are character studies of three very different young men from Israel and Argentina as they come of age and try to connect with the people they love. Also planned are the documentary "Ahead of Time" and short films "Guided Tour" and "Escape from Suburbia."

The Palo Alto screenings end on Aug. 3 with a program of three feature films and four short films.

The French dramedy "The Wolberg Family," screened at 6 p.m., tells the story of a Jewish mayor of a small town, while at 4 p.m. the shorts "Long Distance" and "You Can Dance" document immigrant workers and street performers trying to succeed in Tel Aviv. "Mrs. Moscowitz and the Cats," "Perfect Mother," "Jaffa," and "The Orange" will also be screened that day.

What: As part of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, several screenings are in Palo Alto.

Where: CineArts at Palo Alto Square, 3000 El Camino Real

When: July 31 through Aug. 3, with afternoon and evening screenings.

Cost: Tickets are $12 general and $10.50 for students for each feature film. (Shorts are screened with feature films, or two shorts are screened together for the price of a feature.)

Info: For a full schedule, go to http://sfjff.org or call 415-621-0523.

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