37th San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, Presented by the Jewish Film Institute, Wraps 18 days of Invigorating Films, Performances, and Panel Discussions in the Bay Area

San Francisco, CA — The 37th San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, presented by the Jewish Film Institute, toasted the end of its stellar, 10-day San Francisco run on Sunday, July 30th with the West Coast Premiere of Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story. Joining SFJFF37 at the Castro Theatre for the Closing Night presentation were director Alexandra Dean, subject Anthony Loder (Hedy Lamarr’s son), and artist Jennifer Hom, whose Google illustrations honoring Lamarr’s scientific accomplishments are profiled in the film. An audience of over 1,200 at the Castro Theatre were struck by the film’s nuanced approach to the biographical documentary form and by the breadth and depth of Lamarr’s achievements as an actress and inventor. Following the film and Q&A, festivities continued throughout the theater with the Closing Night Party. The film was produced by Katherine Drew (as well as Alexandra Dean) along with Adam Haggiag. It was executive produced by Susan Sarandon and Michael Kantor. Afterward, the Festival continued in both Albany, Oakland and San Rafael for another week of programming illustrating the full complexity and diversity of Jewish experience through film.

The 37th Festival welcomed an audience of 40,000 patrons, as well as a diverse and talented group of filmmakers, actors, and industry guests from around the globe cementing SFJFF’s status as the largest festival of its kind in the world. SFJFF37 had 18 days of sold-out screenings, standing ovations, bold artistic performances, lively parties, social events, thought-provoking panels, special guests and a bevy of newly minted award presentations. The Festival’s 65 films from 14 countries, presented in San Francisco, Palo Alto, Albany, Oakland and San Rafael, were met with thunderous applause and meaningful dialogue amongst the Jewish, independent film, and media arts communities.

“In a year in which national discussions of identity and belonging are more important than ever, the growth and increased diversity of SFJFF’s audience is evidence that culturally-specific film festivals are truly relevant to those from multiple backgrounds and perspectives,” said JFI’s Executive Director Lexi Leban. “We were incredibly fortunate to host conversations and screenings on issues affecting the global community, including climate change and the current refugee and immigration crises. That those issues found a home and audience at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival is a testament to the Institute’s mission to inspire communities in the Bay Area and beyond to expand their understanding of Jewish life through film, media and dialogue while building bridges to diverse cultural communities throughout the Bay Area.

“In addition to the consistently strong slate of international and domestic films presented that SFJFF is known for, we also added in notable augmented programming experiences, including a live musical performance at the Castro Theatre and a dance presentation in partnership with ODC Theater,” added JFI Program Director Jay Rosenblatt. “These performances perfectly complimented the stories told on screen and reflect JFI’s multi-disciplinary and partnership-based approach to strengthening the Bay Area arts community.”

SFJFF37 AWARDS

The 37th San Francisco Jewish Film Festival inaugurated several new awards that furthered its position as a leader in the curation and presentation of Jewish film and media. In a partnership with the San Francisco Film Critics Circle, SFJFF37 presented the San Francisco Film Critics Circle Award for Best Narrative Feature to Ferenc Török’s 1945 and Andrei Konchalovsky’s Paradise, which tied for the top prize. The juried award was presented to Török by Bay Area journalist Michael Fox before the Centerpiece Narrative screening of 1945 at the Castro Theatre on July 26. The jurors were Pam Grady, Leba Hertz, Michael Fox, Mel Valentin, Randy Myers and Tim Sika. Both films were recognized for their evocative cinematography, emotional nuance, and memorable performances, with the SFCCC stating that “our hope is these SFFCC Awards will encourage a broader audience to seek out these exquisitely made dramas.”

The inaugural SFJFF Audience Awards for the Best Narrative and Best Documentary Feature respectively, were awarded to Ferenc Török’s 1945 and Alexandra Dean’s Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story. “SFJFF has a famously opinionated audience, and what better way to thank our loyal attendees for their considered feedback than with an audience award from the mother of all Jewish film festivals,” said Rosenblatt.

The winner of the Festival’s first juried award for Best Short Documentary was 116 Cameras, directed by Davina Pardo, who profiles an ambitious new project by the USC Shoah Foundation to transform Holocaust survivors into 3-D digital projections that will interact with future generations. The jury consisted of Bay Area filmmakers Andy Wilson, Sari Gilman and Sean Uyehara. The fifth annual SFJFF Film Movement Award honors achievements in short narrative filmmaking that expresses the Jewish experience in a unique, original, and meaningful way. This award went to Mr. Bernstein, directed by Francine Zuckerman. The award carries with it the option of a non-exclusive, DVD and distribution deal with Film Movement.

CINEMATIC HIGHLIGHTS

In one of the most memorable Opening Night presentations in recent years, audiences gave a roaring standing ovation to the cast and crew of Keep the Change, a powerful romantic comedy chronicling the life and love of adults living on the autism spectrum. Director Rachel Israel delighted the audience by announcing the evening’s surprise special guests; lead actors Samantha Elisofon, Brandon Polansky and Will Deaver, who rose from their seats in the theater to thunderous applause. Their thought-provoking responses touched on a multitude of issues: accurate representations of neurodiversity in film, making careers as neuro-diverse actors, and the improvisational and collaborative approach of the filmmaking process, plus many more. The intelligence, passion, humor and honesty of the Opening Night Q&A was discussed by attendees through the end of the Festival. Following the film, attendees celebrated at the Contemporary Jewish Museum with an array of refreshments and delicacies supplied by the Festival’s Hospitality Sponsors.

For its Local Spotlight film, SFJFF37 was thrilled to host a special screening of the new documentary An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power, with former Vice President Al Gore, directors Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk, and producers Diane Weyermann and Richard Berge in attendance. A sold-out Castro Theatre audience listened intently to a post-film discussion with Gore, Cohen and Shenk, moderated by Rosenblatt, detailing the former Vice President’s optimistic fight to reverse the effects of climate change in the 21st century. The conversation was also live-streamed via Facebook and garnered over 7,500 views and 25,000 impressions during the course of the program. The screening capped the fourth annual Take Action Day, an annual program featuring social justice filmmaking in the spirit of the Jewish value of tikkun olam (repairing the world), supported by the Alexander M. and June L. Maisin Foundation of the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund.

This year’s Freedom of Expression Award honored documentarian Joe Berlinger who “champions the unfettered imagination, which is the cornerstone of a free, just and open society.” Berlinger was on-hand for a screening of his latest film, Intent to Destroy, a haunting and resonant examination of the legacy of the Armenian Genocide. It was followed by a conversation about the film and his 25+ year career at the vanguard of documentary filmmaking with Carrie Lozano, Director of the IDA Enterprise Fund.

The SFJFF37 Centerpiece Documentary selection Dina, which won the U.S. Grand Jury Documentary Prize at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, is a modern portrait of a loving relationship between two adults who are on the mental development spectrum. Co-director Antonio Santini and subject Dina Buno were present for the screening and complimented each other during a riveting post-film discussion as they frankly discussed the complications of physical intimacy for those on the Asperger’s spectrum and the painstaking process it took to get the film made.

The Next Wave Spotlight film and party, which honors the frontiers of new Jewish filmmaking for younger audiences, presented Sophie Brooks’ The Boy Downstairs, a light-hearted yet poignant romantic comedy starring Zosia Mamet and Matthew Shear. Following the film and Q&A, over 200 attendees mingled with Brooks and other Festival guests on the Castro mezzanine for the post-film reception.

And in celebration of its continuing audience growth in Palo Alto and the Peninsula, where a record number of Festival Passes were sold this year, SFJFF37 presented the acclaimed historical drama Fanny’s Journey as its Palo Alto Opening Night film at the CineArts Theatre. The Film’s 15-year-old lead actress Leonie Souchaud was in attendance. The film went on to become an audience favorite of this year’s program. 
 
SFJFF37 proudly responded to trends in the film and media industries as 41 percent of this years selection was directed by women. Included among these films, were a significant number of directorial debuts, including the Opening Night, Closing Night and Next Wave Spotlight selections. Directorial debuts by women were highlighted in a special Festival section, In Focus: Women’s Directorial Debuts that included: Rachel Israel’s Keep the Change, Alexandra Dean’s Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story, Sophie Brook’s The Boy Downstairs, Hope Litoff’s 32 Pills: My Sister’s Suicide, Sandy Chronopolous’s House of Z, Maysaloun Hamoud’s In Between, Sophia Kruz’s Little Stones, Maha Haj’s Personal Affairs, Marina Willer’s Red Trees and Jessie Auritt’s Supergirl.

Other memorable moments with filmmakers and guests, Big Sonia directors’ Leah Warshawski and Todd Soliday participated in an upbeat and profound Q&A about the resilient spirit of Holocaust survivors. The team behind A Classy Broad, Marcia Nasatir and Director Anne Gorsaud, delighted audiences with powerful tales from the annals of Hollywood. Bobbi Jene Smith, subject of Bobbi Jene, captivated audiences with her recollections of working with Batsheva Dance company for 10 years and shared her creative process as she struck out in her own solo career. Director Lilly Rivlin and Heather Booth, the team behind Take Action Day title Heather Booth: Changing the World galvanized audiences into a community organizing frenzy with their powerful post-film Q&A at the Castro. Neil Berkeley, director of the poignant documentary Gilbert, engaged audiences with his candid and eloquent answers about the making of his profile of Gilbert Gottfried. Director Amy Geller was on hand to discuss her documentary The Guys Next Door for a full house at Oakland’s New Parkway Theater as well as Natalie Teter, editor of the SFJFF37 Spotlight Web Series The F Word.

All filmmaker Q&As from SFJFF at the Castro Theatre are available to watch online here.

All Festival photos with captions are available to download here. Please credit the 37th San Francisco Jewish Film Festival and photographer Pat Mazzera.

BEYOND THE SCREEN: PERFORMANCES, PANELS, PARTIES AND PARTNERSHIPS

The Festival augmented its slate of films this year with a robust calendar of panels and performances that enhanced the Festival experience and highlighted the organization’s multi-disciplinary approach to arts presentation.

With support from The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, SFJFF37 presented Exodus: A Sidebar on the Refugee Experience that showcased a mix of archival and contemporary films that examined the experiences of refugees and underscored similarities between past and contemporary currents of xenophobia, populism and extreme nationalism. The centerpiece of this programming, was a panel discussion on the current international crisis moderated by KQED Forum’s Michael Krasny and featuring Mark Hetfield, Executive Director of HIAS; Amy Weiss, Director of Refugee and Immigrant Services, Jewish Family & Community Services East Bay; Subhi Nahas, Syrian refugee and LGBTQ activist. The panel discussion was livestreamed on Facebook, reaching over 3,000 people. Also of note in the Exodus sidebar was an electrifying Albany screening of Beth Toni Kruvant’s Levinsky Park, which details the politics and relationships of a working class Tel Aviv neighborhood home to many refugees. With Kruvant, activist and community organizer, Oscar Olivier, a Democratic Republic of Congo refugee featured in the film was in attendance. Other films in the sidebar included Guido Hendrikx’s Stranger in Paradise, Pia Lenz’s I’m Okay, Stuart Rosenberg’s 1976 film Voyage of the Damned, and Tonislav Hristov’s The Good Postman.

Following the Castro screening of Body and Soul: An American Bridge, a documentary that highlights the relationship between African-Americans and Jews in jazz by local filmmaker Robert Philipson, a large Castro audience enjoyed a live musical performance by The Marcus Shelby Quartet, who reinterpreted, analyzed and performed jazz standards with an activist’s approach to music. Shelby, an artist in residence of the Yerba Buena Gardens Festival and a longtime bandleader, musician, activist and lecturer, eloquently drew connections between traditional jazz and traditional Hebrew prayer melodic structures that had the audience tapping their feet in earnest.

SFJFF37 also introduced a new cross-cultural partnership with ODC to present an exclusive performance of A Study on Effort: A Duet Performance by Bobbi Jene Smith and violinist Keir GoGwilt, following the Festival screenings of the documentary Bobbi Jene. Smith, a former member of Israel’s prestigious Batsheva Dance Company, is the subject of this riveting, award-winning documentary, which chronicles her pursuit of a solo career in New York City and the formation of her piece A Study on Effort. A sold-out audience at ODC Theater were mesmerized by the intimate, dynamic and provocative composition, which found Smith and GoGwilt’s improvisational skills and deep creative connection at center stage. The performance signaled a commitment by the Festival to actively seek out arts partnerships that expanded audiences and awareness for both organizations and championed artistic visions in multiple mediums.

Reprising its successful Film & Feast program from 2016, the Festival complimented the Albany screening of Maha Haj’s Personal Affairs with a celebratory dinner at Zaytoon Mediterranean Restaurant & Bar, conveniently next door to the theater. The evening featured classic Mediterranean flavors with bold wine-pairings for its 100 Festival guests.

SFJFF37 thanks the more than 140 community partners who helped make its program a success, including the Exploratorium, Noise Pop, International Rescue Committee, KQED Film School Shorts, KQED Truly CA , CAAM, SFFILM, Bitch Talk Podcast, the International Rescue Committee, the UC Berkeley School of Public Health, and many more.

For a complete list of community partners, click here.

THAT’S A WRAP AND LOOKING AHEAD

The 37th San Francisco Jewish Film Festival presented a bold, diverse and dynamic year of Jewish-themed cinema that expanded the Festival’s audience with its interpretations of films that qualify for the program. From comedy and the arts to human rights and social justice, SFJFF37 continued to mine relevance from Jewish experience and apply those experience to universalities that appeal to wide audiences today. The Jewish Film Institute will continue to build on the 2017 Festival’s success with new online initiatives, a robust year-round programming calendar, enhanced artist support opportunities and creative partnerships to showcase Jewish film for years to come.

Stay tuned for the Jewish Film Institute’s year-round programming and SFJFF38, July 19 — August 5, 2018.

2017 Festival Sponsors

The Jewish Film Institute and San Francisco Jewish Film Festival wish to thank the 2017 Premier Festival Sponsors Sterling Bank & Trust and The Seligman Family Foundation.

Foundation and Government Support comes from The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Common Counsel Foundation, The Covenant Foundation, FOHS Foundation, The Frederick J. Isaac Fund of the Jewish Community Foundation of the East Bay, GAIA Fund, Consulate General of the Federal Republic of Germany in San Francisco, Grants for the Arts, Walter & Elise Haas Fund, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, The Consulate General of Israel to the Pacific Northwest, San Francisco, The Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund, John & Marcia Goldman Foundation, Lisa & Douglas Goldman Fund, The Alexander M. and June L. Maisin Foundation of the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund, The Nathan Cummings Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, Bernard Osher Jewish Philanthropies Foundation, The Barbro Osher Pro Suecia Foundation, Lisa & John Pritzker Fund, The Laszlo N. Tauber Family Foundation, Wells Fargo, Maxine & Jack Zarrow Family Foundation.

Business & Community Sponsors are Berkeley Film Foundation, Britex Fabrics, Contemporary Jewish Museum, Craig Harrison’s Expressions of Excellence, Jupiter, ODC, Sinai Memorial Chapel Chevra Kadisha, Schoenberg Family Law Group, P.C., Wareham Development, George Krevsky Fine Art Services.

Media Sponsors are J. the Jewish News of Northern California, KQED, The Forward, SF Weekly, Berkeleyside, SF Bay Times.

Hospitality Sponsors are Ba-Bite, Buca di Beppo, Catch, DZINE, Salt & Honey, Little Star Pizza, Zaytoon Mediterranean Restaurant & Bar, FedEx, Frena Bakery, Hagafen Napa Valley, Hanlees Auto Group, Hearth, Lagunitas Brewing Co., La Mediterranee, Landmark Theatres, L’chaim Foods, Leftwich Event Specialists, Inc., Melons Catering & Events, Nosh, The Orchard Garden Hotel, S&B Party Rentals, Poesia Osteria Italiana, Saul’s Restaurant & Delicatessen, Taste, Vegan Picnic, Wise Sons Jewish Delicatessenqq, Alta, Bitchin’ Baklava, Bi-Rite, Cafe Eugene, Canyon, Market, Credo, Dandelion Chocolate, Donsuemor, Doll’s Kitchen, The Dorian, Extreme Pizza Fairytale Brownies, Have Your Cake, House of Bagels, Hugh Gorman Group, Loving Cup, The Natural Grocery Company, Salty Sweet, Z. Cioccolato
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About the Jewish Film Institute
The Jewish Film Institute (JFI) is the premier curatorial voice for Jewish film and media and a leading arts and culture organization in the Bay Area. JFI catalyzes and inspires communities in San Francisco and around the world to expand their understanding of Jewish life and culture through film, media, and dialogue. Year round, the Jewish Film Institute promotes awareness and appreciation of the diversity of the Jewish people through multiple mediums — including original online programming that reaches a global audience of over 2 million views. All of these services, along with artists’ support and educational initiatives, give audiences around the world even greater access to Jewish culture and the visionaries who shape it.

About the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival
The San Francisco Jewish Film Festival (SFJFF), presented by the Jewish Film Institute, is the largest and longest-running festival of its kind and a leader in the curation and presentation of new film and media exploring the complexities of Jewish life around the world. SFJFF attracts more than 40,000 filmgoers and industry professionals to its annual three weeks of inspiring films, events, panels and parties. Screenings take place at the historic Castro theatre in San Francisco and venues throughout the Bay Area during July and August.

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