Press Releases

Arts: Jewish Film Festival Celebrates 25 Years By JUSTIN DeFREITAS

Friday July 29, 2005

The San Francisco Jewish Film Festival is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year by looking back and looking ahead.  

This year’s program offers 49 films from 15 countries, including short films, classic features, contemporary dramas, comedies and documentaries.  

The festival, which opened July 21 at San Francisco’s Castro Theater, continues this Sunday at Berkeley’s Roda Theater—as well as at theaters in Mountain View and San Rafael—through Aug. 6.  

The SFJFF began in 1981, the first of its kind. Over the years, many festivals have followed suit; there are now more than 100 Jewish film festivals worldwide. 

This year’s program spotlights the work of Jewish screenwriters blacklisted during the 1950s. Peter Godfrey’s Hotel Berlin (1945) features an adapted screenplay written by Blacklist victim Alvah Bessie and features Peter Lorre, a Hungarian Jew who made his name playing a murderer in German director Fritz Lang’s 1931 anti-Nazi film M.  

Other classics include The Locket, co-written by the uncredited Norma Barzman, and Fred Zinnemann’s The Search in which Montgomery Clift plays a GI during World War II who befriends a young boy in a United Nations’ camp in occupied Germany. The screenplay was written by Blacklist victim Paul Jarrico.  

The festival will also screen Martin Ritt’s The Front (1976), a comedy starring Woody Allen as a stand-in for a Blacklisted television writer played by Zero Mostel, himself a Blacklist victim.  

Though the festival has maintained its strong focus on Israeli films this year, one of the highlights of the week comes from Germany. Go For Zucker! (2004) stars Henry Hübchen as Jaecki Zucker (formerly Zuckermann), a man who abandoned his Jewish identity decades ago but must now reconcile with his estranged Orthodox brother in order to acquire an inheritance. Zucker’s family, including his wife, played by German star Hannelore Elsner, struggle to pass as observant when the in-laws come to visit. The film has earned praise for presenting German Jews outside a Holocaust context, an unprecedented feat in post-war German cinema. 

Among the contemporary Israeli films, Campfire (2004) is another stand-out. The film, which won the Israeli Academy Award for best picture, presents a widowed mother seeking to prove herself worthy of joining a West Bank religious settlement where she hopes to start a new life for herself and her two daughters. 

One of the strengths of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival is its willingness to screen unflinching documentaries examining volatile topics. Some of these films are among the most enticing in this year’s program. 

Commune (2005), Jonathan Berman’s exploration of the allure that utopian societies hold for Jews, looks at the Black Bear Ranch, a 1970s community in Northern California’s Siskiyou County, and features Black Bear members Harriet Beinfeld, Peter Coyote and Daily Planet contributor Osha Neumann. Jericho’s Echo (2005) takes a look at the Israeli punk scene. And in Keep Not Silent (2005), director Ilil Alexander offers a glimpse into the lives of three Orthodox lesbians dealing with the choices and sacrifices that result when religion and sexuality collide.  

Shiri Tsur’s On The Objection Front (2004) documents the plight of and debate over “refusniks,” Israeli soldiers who declare themselves conscientious objectors, refusing to serve in the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. 

Wall, Simone Bitton’s exploration of the impact of the barrier dividing Israel from the Palestinian territories, won a Special Jury Award at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival. And in Protocols of Zion, director Marc Levin hits the streets to show that the stereotypes and bigoted notions expressed in the long-discredited pamphlet The Protocols of the Elders of Zion are alive and well in America. 

And finally, Berkeley filmmaker Judith Montell’s Professional Revolutionary, which documents the life of Saul Wellman and his life-long dedication to socialist causes, plays at 2:20 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 6. 

The festival also includes 18 short films interspersed with the feature-length films.  


The San Francisco Jewish Film Festival runs July 31- Aug. 6 at the Roda Theater, 2015 Addison St., Berkeley. For a complete schedule of films, including ticket information, director biographies and film descriptions, go to For ticket information, call (925) 275-9490 or write to