Bay Area/ San Francisco
Published on July 22, 2015
San Francisco Jewish Film Festival Returns This Week With Castro ScreeningsA still from "Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict." (Photo: SFJFF)

The San Francisco Jewish Film Festival—the oldest Jewish film festival in the world—is returning this week for its 35th annual event, with screenings from July 23rd through August 9th. It's presented by the newly-formed Jewish Film Institute, led by executive director Lexi Leban and programming director Jay Rosenblatt.

Screenings for the festival will be held at venues around the Bay Area, including the Landmark California Theater in Berkeley, Lakeside Theater in Oakland, the Rafael Film Center in San Rafael, and CineArts in Palo Alto. But many of the best films of the festival will screen at our very own Castro Theatre. To help you plan your viewing, here are a few highlights; the full schedule can be found here

The opening-night film, screening at the Castro on Thursday, July 23rd, is Dough, a British comedy about an elderly Jewish baker (Jonathan Pryce) who's struggling to keep his bakery afloat. When his new Muslim assistant (Jerome Holder), a small-time pot dealer, accidentally drops cannabis in the dough, he gets a new wave of customers—and a new world of trouble. Pryce gives a great and widely-praised performance in the feel-good film; for the 6:15pm screening, Holder and director John Goldschmidt will be in attendance. 

Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict is the newest documentary from Lisa Immordino Vreeland, the director of Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel. It offers a look into the rarefied world of art collecting, blending the colorful, the surreal, and the salacious to portray a life that was as complex and unpredictable as the artwork Peggy Guggenheim revered and the artists she promoted. Due to the complexity of its subject, the film was several years in the making; it made its world premiere at the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival. It will screen at the Castro on Sunday, July 26th, at 4:30pm. (There's no trailer online, but here's a clip.)

Filmmaker and journalist Adam Benzine will appear at the Castro on Tuesday, July 28th (4:30pm) to introduce his new documentary Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah. The documentary relates Lanzmann's 12-year process in creating 1985's Shoah, a nine-and-a-half-hour-long film which is widely considered to be among the greatest documentaries and the most important Holocaust films ever made. Lanzmann tells of the challenges and dangers he faced, including convincing traumatized death camp survivors to recount their World War II experiences; tracking down and secretly filming SS officers; and cutting together a movie from hundreds of hours of film. He also reflects on his own teenage years spent fighting in the French Resistance, and his romance with Simone de Beauvoir and friendship with Jean-Paul Sartre.

One of the films screening, Plastic Man: The Artful Life of Jerry Ross Barrish, has local ties: it's directed by longtime SF independent filmmaker William Farley, and produced by former SFJFF director Janis Plotkin. It tells the story of San Francisco’s "found plastic" artist, who worked for 40 years as a bail bondsman while navigating the often confusing and cutthroat world of art. Now in his 70s, he has to decide whether or not he'll accept his first bronze sculpture commission. Plotkin, Farley, and Barrish will all be in attendance at the Castro Theatre's July 25th screening (4:30pm); afterwards, the festival will hold a reception on the Castro mezzanine.

Finally, in cooperation with the British Film Institute, the SFJFF will present the West Coast premiere of the feature-length documentary German Concentration Camps Factual Survey at the Castro on July 26th at noon. The film was produced by Sidney Bernstein (who later founded Granada TV) just after the war, as a project of the British Ministry of Information. He enlisted Alfred Hitchcock as "treatment advisor," giving Bernstein advice on how to best assemble the footage, much of which was sourced from UK, US, French, and USSR occupying forces documenting the liberation of the camps. The final film was only completed last year; Hitchcock rarely spoke about his involvement, telling one interviewer that it was "Horrible. It was more horrible than any fantasy horror. Then, nobody wanted to see it. It was too unbearable." Given the graphic nature of the film, no one under 18 will be admitted to the screening.