Kirk Douglas graces Jewish Film Festival

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The San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, now age 31, is still the largest (and the oldest) among the more than 120 such festivals in the world, according to executive director Peter Stein.

At a press conference announcing the annual festival’s July opening, he called the popular, annual event a “moveable feast,” with 58 films from 16 countries in five Bay Area cities for a total of 110 screenings. Post-screening panel discussions with filmmakers, receptions, some free matinees, streaming videos and other events are all part of the mix.

Stein steps down after this summer. The board, he said, is looking both nationally and internationally for his replacement.

This year’s festival ranges from the somber to the sublimely silly, with everything imaginable in between: the political; works by local filmmakers; Holocaust-themed films, such as two that coincide with the 50th anniversary of the capture of Adolf Eichmann; the 1939 Yiddish-language “Tevye,” based on the Sholem Aleichem story that later inspired “Fiddler on the Roof.”

A spotlight on “Poland and the Jews” includes documentaries (for example, Pawel Kloc’s “Phnom Penh Lullaby,” about an Israeli fortune teller in Cambodia) and fictional features (the centerpiece film is Jan Kidawa-Blonski’s Cold War thriller, “Little Rose”).

The closing night film at the Castro Theatre is “100 Voices: A Journey Home,” a documentary about cantors who travel back to Poland (where cantorial music originated), with an onstage concert by local cantors accompanied by the Castro’s mighty Wurlitzer.

On the lighter side, “Jews in Toons” presents Jewish-themed episodes from TV’s “The Simpsons,” “South Park” and “Family Guy.” Longtime “Simpsons” writer/producer Mike Reiss is one among many guest appearances at the festival.

Another appearance is by this year’s Freedom of Expression Award honoree, 94-year-old Kirk Douglas. When producing the Stanley Kubrick biblical epic “Spartacus” — in which he also starred — during the paranoid McCarthy era, Douglas defiantly hired blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo under his true name (not, as was the practice then, a protective pseudonym). A lesser known Douglas film, “The Juggler,” about a Holocaust survivor, will also be screened.

The opening-night film at the Castro sets the tone for a festival that’s always been broadly inclusive. Guy Nattiv’s Israeli feature, “Mabul (The Flood),” is a sensitive coming-of-age story in which an about-to-be-bar-mitzvah boy (the terrific Yoav Rotman) struggles toward manhood in a dysfunctional family that includes his low-functioning autistic brother (an equally impressive turn by Michael Moshonov), a father who’s been suspended from his job as a crop-dusting pilot and his mother (Ronit Elkabetz), who’s having an adulterous affair.

IF YOU GO  

San Francisco Jewish Film Festival

Where: Castro Theatre, 429 Castro St., San Francisco

When: July 21 through July 28

Tickets: $12 most screenings, more for special events

Contact: (415) 621-0523; www.sfjff.org

Note: The festival continues at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco, July 30-31; the Roda Theatre in Berkeley, July 30-Aug, 6; Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto, Aug 1-7; and the Rafael Film Center, San Rafael, Aug. 6-8.

Selected highlights

  • “Mabul (The Flood),” 6:30 p.m. July 21
  • “Spartacus,” 1 p.m. July 24
  • “Jews in Toons,” 7 p.m. July 25
  • “Little Rose,” 6 p.m. July 26
  • “Tevye,” 1:20 p.m. July 27
  • “Phnom Penh Lullaby,” 3:30 p.m. July 27
  • “The Juggler,” 11:30 a.m. July 28
  • “100 Voices: A Journey Home,” 8:15 p.m. July 28

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