There was much talk in the theater tonight of whether it was appropriate to even call it a festival at a time like this. But art is at its best when things around us are at their worst, and art isn’t an escape so much as a needed glimpse into what can be possible. And film is a particular kind of media that can show us life on the other side of the fence, or wall, or world.
Be that as it may during this very tricky time with high security with our popcorn and a carefully low key movie marquee that announces movie titles but not the festival in any way, I was still there as a reviewer, and this is my review.
This wasn’t the best film festival I’ve ever been to. I wouldn’t call the staff overly friendly; I wouldn’t call it supremely well organized. And the films definitely ran the gamut in terms of quality, but there were a few that tackled women’s issue very well. Some of the more interesting films are listed below, and I just hope that peace will prevail in that ancient Middle Eastern region with its thousands-year-old scars that still have yet to heal.
1- "Be Fruitful and Multiply" and "The King’s Daughter" were both fascinating peeks into the daily lives of devout Hasidic and Orthodox women in both Israel and New York. I was absolutely riveted. If you’ve ever wondered what their secret lives are like (I SO have!), these short documentaries are for you. "Be Fruitful" discusses the pressure on women to bear kids in double-digit numbers. Just a simple grocery store trip is unimaginable- it’s more like stocking a restaurant when you have 18 mouths to feed! Fascinating!
2- "Free Zone" is a big-name production because Natalie Portman is in it, and if you ignore the director’s overblown fondness for trying to be too artistic, you’ll find an amazing story at the heart of it. An American woman, a Palestinian woman and an Israeli woman all end up meeting and having to help each other one strange evening in Jordan’s free economic zone.
3- "Close To Home" is an interesting film about young women serving in the Israeli army
4-**** "Four Weeks in June" is a gorgeous, bring tissues, laugh out loud, fantastically amazing Swedish movie about two women, a troubled young woman on probation, and an older woman nearing the end of her life. The actresses, both beloved in Sweden, are unbelievable in this, and I just absolutely loved every second of this movie; I could have sat for days watching the relationship between the women unfold.
5- Films I Wished I’d Seen: "Forgiving Dr. Mengele" is about a woman coming to terms with forgiving the monster who experimented on her and her twin. "The First Zionist Bunny" sounds deliciously intriguing- it’s about finding a woman to be a hostess on the Playboy Channel when it comes to Israel. There are also two films that take a special look at Jews of color, from many African nations like Ethiopia, called "Live and Become" and "Sisai".
6- Finally, "The Tribe". I saw at Sundance and it hits close to home and my own absolute LOVE for Barbie. Did you know that this aryan poster doll was created by a Jewish woman??? It’s narrated by Peter Coyote…San Francisco’s answer to Ken?
The San Francisco Jewish Film Festival is currently playing in the City and will soon be moving to Berkeley, Marin and the Peninsula. For more information, see sfjff.org. And remember, like all ethnic film festivals, everyone is invited and encouraged to come and either strengthen your own identity or walk around in someone else’s for a while.