39th San Francisco Jewish Film Festival to screen more than 65 flicks

Not infrequently, I’m an outlier.

Take the 39th annual San Francisco Jewish Film Festival — which runs in five Bay Area cities between July 18 to Aug. 4 — as “a for-instance.”

Most moviegoers (and critics, methinks) will probably be hell bent on seeing the opening night documentary, “Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles,” which details the creative roots of the classic Broadway musical, in the ornate 1,400-seat Castro Theatre.

And/or the city’s July 28 closing night fiction flick in the same place, “The Red Sea Diving Resort,” which showcases the brave backstory about thousands of Ethiopians smuggled to Israel in the early 1980s.

Not me.

Even though both are one-time-only screenings.

I and other outliers (or out-of-towners who simply don’t like fighting city traffic) prefer to skip the monster crowds and see more esoteric fare in smaller venues.

The Amazing Johnathan is the subject of a Jewish Film Festival documentary.

For example, I intend to not see the festival’s Centerpiece Documentary, “The Amazing Johnathan,” at the Castro but catch it instead on Aug. 3 at the Smith Rafael Film Center.

I am, however, really looking forward to watching the story of the final tour of John Szeles (Johnathan’s given name), who reveled in illusions and deception as a stage magician/stand-up despite being unreliable because of his addiction to drugs (not to mention a serious heart condition).

That film, which features multiple twists and turns — as well as interviews with “Weird Al” Yankovic, Penn Jillette, Judy Gold and Carrot Top — will also screen in the East Bay at the Albany Twin and at the CinéArtsin Palo Alto.

Another movie that’ll play in all four of those theaters is “Tel Aviv on Fire,” a Centerpiece Narrative that focuses on the comic efforts of a Palestinian who gets his big break on a popular TV soap.

Not incidentally, other films in the fest — which draws more than 40,000 filmgoers annually — will also play at the Piedmont Theatre in Oakland.

In my home county of Marin, meanwhile, 14 flicks will screen between Aug. 2 and 4.

They include:

“Standing Up, Falling Down,” a film with Billy Crystal that explores family and the elusive nature of adulthood; “The Humorist,” about an insult comic who’s a favorite of Stalinist bureaucrats despite his making jokes about them; “How About Adolf?” — a black comedy that lampoons contemporary German attitudes and denials of the Nazi past; “Dolce Fine Giornata,” a morally ambiguous fiction about a liberal female Nobel Prize winner who becomes a polarizing figure because of her involvement with a young Egyptian immigrant in Italy; “The Tobacconist,” about Sigmund Freud’s befriending a youngster who must grow up fast because of the Nazi fervor in Austria; “Carl Laemmle,” the tale of a German-Jewish immigrant who founded Universal Pictures in 1912 and later rescued more than 300 Jewish refugee families from the Holocaust; and “Safe Spaces,” with Justin Long and Fran Drescher, a New Wave Spotlight’s comedic take on Jewish guilt and not-so-free speech in the current #MeToo climate.

Festival choices that I’ve screened in advance that might be considered outlier fare — the cinematic road less traveled, that is — are a documentary titled “It Must Schwing: The Blue Note Story,” about the iconic jazz record label, its 1939 white founders (two escapees from Berlin) and its black artists (talking heads that include Herbie Hancock, Sonny Rollins and Quincy Jones), marred slightly by intrusive animation but highlighted by a clip showing Billie Holiday mournfully singing “Strange Fruit,” a gut-wrenching tune about lynching; “What She Said,” a second doc that will appeal mostly to cerebral devotees of the late fearless, often-acerbic New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael; and “Shut Up and Play the Piano,” a third documentary focusing on the music and bizarre life of Canadian piano virtuoso Chilly Gonzales (whose un-stage name is Jason Beck), a bombastic master of outrageous behavior and provocateur of punk, rap and classical music.

More than 65 films from around the world will be seen during the festival. Which should pretty much guarantee that every filmgoer can find somethingpersonally appealing — whether he or she is an outlier or a person who adores more mainstream movies.

Contact Woody Weingarten, a member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle, at www.vitalitypress.com/or voodee@sbcglobal.net.

About the Author

Woody WeingartenWoody Weingarten, who can be reached at www.vitalitypress.com/ or voodee@sbcglobal.net, can’t remember when he couldn’t talk — or play with words. His first poem was published in high school but when his hormones announced the arrival of adulthood, he figured he’d rather eat than rhyme. So he switched to journalism. And whadda ya know, the bearded, bespectacled fella has used big, small and hyphenated words professionally since jumpstarting his career in New Yawk City more than 60 years ago. Today the author of the book “Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner’s breast cancer” is also a reviewer-critic, blogger and publisher — despite allegedly being retired. During his better-paid years as a wage slave he was an executive editor and writer for daily and weekly publications in California, Florida, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York. He won writing awards for public service and investigation, features, columns, editorials and news. Woody also has published weekly and monthly newspapers, and written a national column for “Audio” magazine. A graduate of Colgate University, he owned a public relations/ad agency and managed an advertising publication. The father of two and grandfather of three, he and his wife, Nancy Fox, have lived in San Anselmo in Marin County for three decades. He figures they'll stay.View all posts by Woody Weingarten →