If you can’t make it to the SF/Bay Area July 24 – Aug 9th, here’s my greatest hits list for your Netflix queue. As always, this diverse lineup promises to astound you with fantastic performances not likely to ever be seen at a theater near you.

If you just have time for one film, pick Saviors In the Night”, the July 24th opening feature. Don’t worry, it’s playing again a few times in SF, Palo Alto, San Rafael and Berkeley. There couldn’t have been a better film to kick off the 30th anniversary of the SFJFF. Based on the memoir of Marga Spiegel, a 98 year old who survived the Holocaust with the help of a German Christian family. If you aren’t inspired, joyful & shedding a tear by the surprise ending you are truly made of stone. Marga Spiegel is scheduled to make a memorable appearance at the opening.

To bookend the festival, the SF closing film will be “The Klezmatics: On Holy Ground.” Fans of world music or klezmer will love this profile of a 20 year old band still in business, constantly redefining “jewish” music. The Director, Eric Greenburg, will be at the SF closing and a couple of band members promise to be at the opening in Berkeley.

I’ll give you a few appetizers to help you wade through the entertaining banquet before you. The centerpiece film on Tuesday, July 27th, Anita (Argentina), is an emotional story of a sweet woman with down syndrome. She manages to bring out the best in people she encounters during her wanderings while being accidentally separated from her family and lost. The lead actress, who has down syndrome, will be at the Castro screening.

The Freedom of Expression Award goes to “Sayed Kashua” , about Israel’s leading satirist. Kashua is of Palestinian origin and best know in the US for his bitingly funny television series, “Arab Labor.”. The SFJFF will be the international premiere of session two.

“Room And A Half” is a semi fictional account of Joseph Brodsky, Russian Jewish poet, who moved to the United States after being expelled from the USSR in 1972 and won the 1987 Nobel Prize in Literature. The director, Andrey Khrzhanovsky, will make an appearance in conjunction with the Monday, July 26 screening.

The “Tough Guys” series introduces us to Jewish actors and Jewish characters in gangster films. During her research, Nancy Fishman, the guest curator for archival programs, claims many Jews can lift a rock under their family tree and find a gangster. They were prevalent plagues to small business people, either involving owners in crimes or participating in payoffs. Selections include, “Scarface”(1991) , “Bugsy”(1932), & “Lepke”(1975).

Even silent films get there due here. On Monday, July 26 the 1922 “Hungry Hearts” will play with a commissioned traditional period score by Ethan Miller, local San Francisco musician. It has been described as very contemporary with a bit of psychedelia.

Local Academy Award Nominee Sam Green presents hisUtopia in Four Movements” on the opening day in Berkeley. In an unusual move, Green decided to turn his latest project into a live self-narrated doc/ thought piece on idealism. Expect to see bits on the Esperanto & social movements, China, which has the biggest mall in the world, and some jewish themes thrown in.

Here’s another first, the west coast premiere of “Jews in Baseball: An American Love Story.” Larry King interviews and Dustin Hoffman narrates this stereotype breaking study of famous Jewish athletes. In a rare interview, Sandy Cofax relates the time he refused to pitch on Yom Kipper in the World Series.

Back to the rest of the world, “A Small Act” introduces us to a young Kenyan man who realized his life was changed by the gift of education bestowed on him by an anonymous Swedish woman who wanted to “pay it forward”. He is now a lawyer in Geneva and seeks out this generous woman who turns out to be a Holocaust refugee. “A Small Act” reminds us of the need to provide a leg up to those in need and of the absolutely crucial role education plays in children’s futures.

San Francisco Jewish Film Festival
San Francisco: Castro Theatre, July 24-29
Palo Alto: Cinearts, July 31 – Aug 3
Berkeley: Roda, July 31 – Aug 7
San Rafael: Rafael, Aug 7-9
San Francisco: JCCSF, Aug 7-8
more info & tix: www.sfjff.org