Tuesday, July 22, 2008

San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, 2008, Week 1

The San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, 2008, opens tomorrow: Thursday, June 24, for sixteen days of screenings around the San Francisco Bay Area. Though sixteen days may seem intimidating, that includes a thorough amount of encore screenings at the different venues in San Francisco (The Castro, the JCCSF, Swedish American Hall), Palo Alto (Cine'Arts), Berkeley (The Roda) and San Rafael (Christopher B. Smith Film Center). I was fortunate enough to see quite a few programs at Atlanta Jewish Film Festival, as well as some screeners generously provided by Larsen Associates in San Francisco. Instead of my typical, daily "journal" of films, I am dividing my posting of the SFJFF into weeks. Following is what I've seen from Week 1.

Screening on Saturday, July 26th, is a fabulous family oriented double feature.

MAX MINSKY AND ME (dir. Anna Justice, Germany, 2007, 85 mins.). This was a particularly sweet (without being CUTE) narrative of a 13 year old girl facing the dilemma of choosing between studying for her bat mitzvah or following through on her complicated plans to meet her heart throb at a basketball tournament. What set this film a step apart and above from most "after school specials" is the emotional twists the principle character experiences. Though the plot isn't exactly unpredictable, the performers never telegraph their journey, and appear as surprised at their characters choices as the audience should be. The wit and humor were delightful, too.

SIXTY SIX (dir. Paul Weiland, UK, 2006, 93 mins.) This is a gorgeously designed recreation of 1966 in London, where a boy's Bar Mitzvah is in "competition" against the World Cup. Gregg Sulkin plays the 12 year old with geekiness without being cloying. Eddie Marsan is fabulous as his father and Helena Bonham Carter delivers a surprisingly underplayed performance as his mother. Director Paul Weiland has the production under great control as the wit is perfectly pitched with the pacing. He treads the line of farce, but keeps it human. The production and costume design is almost freakishly accurate, and displays the best (or was it the worst?) trends of the period. It was released in the UK and Commonwealth over two years ago and just making the festival circuit here. Hopefully, there is US domestic distribution, though it is available on R2 DVD.

Screening on Sunday, July 27th, is a charming documentary, and part of a retrospective of the Heymann Brothers documentary films, DANCING ALFONSO (dir. Barak Heymann, Israel, 2007, 53 mins.). This will inevitably draw comparison to this year's other "geriatrics in the arts" docu-pic, YOUNG @ HEART. However, this film focuses much more on the personal relationships within the group by examining Alfonso, who during the span of the film (SMALL SPOILER HERE) becomes a widower and then begins his search for another companion within the tango dance company he is a part of. The tango itself becomes something of an allegory, paralleling the emotional ups, downs, pairings and splits that Alfonso experiences. And there is some fun in watching a set of "golden girls" fight over a man!

Screening on Tuesday, July 29th, are a pair of documentaries on Gay Issues.

DARLING! THE PIETER-DIRK UYS STORY (dir. Julian Shaw, Australia, 2007, 54 mins.) It is almost dismissive to describe Pieter-Dirk Uys as the Dame Edna of South Africa. He invokes a character, or as he would put it, is possessed by, "Evita Bezuidenhout" (which actually pronounces easier than it looks!). Though the "act" might be similar, Mr. Uys is filled with a much more important purpose. Uys, who spent most of the 80's fighting apartheid continues his activism by spreading awareness of AIDS and teaching safe sex practices at schools, in what he calls an "AIDS Awareness Entertainment". His humor is exceptionally biting and uncensored. Think of what Barry Humphries might be like if he expressed his disdain of how South Africa handles the AIDS crisis by accusing the government of genocide. The film itself is a nicely edited compendium of biography, interviews and performance videos. The editing is remarkably smooth for a first time film, and by a teenager, at that!

JERUSALEM IS PROUD TO PRESENT... (dir. Nitzan Gilady, Israel, 2007, 80 mins.) This is a documentary about World Pride Day 2006 in Jersualem and the ensuing debate. Well, actually, it is more than "debate". The film spends a great deal of time documenting the opposing parties literally screaming at each other. To that extent, however valid its purpose, I found it tiresome, but then, that is exactly the situation the organizers found themselves in. I found it to be a difficult film to watch, as the parties are so extremely divided that the argument is made within the first few minutes and then fought over for the next hour and a half. To a certain extent, it is preaching to the choir and does not attempt to educate either side, but simply reports the fighting between the groups.

Screening at the end of the first week, Wednesday, July 30th, is FACING WINDOWS (dir. Ferzan Ozpetek, United Kingdom/Turkey/Portugal/Italy, 2003, 102 mins.). The story plays out two generations of romantic liaisons, woven together, as an elderly amnesiac is taken in by a family, who is facing a marital crisis. Giovanna Mezzogiorno plays the frustrated wife with a great deal of angst and bitterness. So much so, I found her unsympathetic and therefore difficult to empathize with her infatuation on the man who lives across the way, played by the simply gorgeous Raoul Bova. Massimo Girotti has the difficult role of the Holocaust surviving amnesiac. Yeah, that's a lot of baggage to portray right there! Intercutting these stories, though brilliantly edited, was at the same time, confusing. Also, the cinematography is unforgivably dark. I viewed this via a screener on my home projector, and can only hope that the shadows will be more distinct in the theater. The film does end on an exceptionally powerful note, however, that should allow most audiences to leave feeling moved, though they might not know exactly why.

Maxxxxx says
re MAX MINSKY AND ME: "Sit! Sit!"
re SIXTY SIX: "Such a pretty bird!"
re DANCING ALFONSO: "I love you!" [then bites a finger]
re DARLING!: "woooooo!"
re JERUSALEM: "Shuddup!"
re FACING WINDOWS: "Is it bedtime?"

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