San Diego’s Jewish Film Festival goes international


Boasting a newly elongated title, the 29th San Diego International Jewish Film Festival will offer 17 documentaries and 15 narrative films over 11 days. Topics will range from jazz, baseball and rock ’n’ roll to family issues and people in the Warsaw Ghetto who created an invaluable archive of their experiences during World War II.

The addition of the word “International” signifies that more than 15 countries are represented at this year’s festival, which begins tonight at Clairemont Reading Cinemas.

“We’re proud of the selections this year,” said festival chair Christina Fink. “We bring our audience the most contemporary and current films possible.”

The festival opens tonight with the West Coast premiere of “It Must Schwing: The Blue Note Story.” The documentary profiles Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff, two German expatriates in New York who founded the legendary Blue Note record label in 1939. Together, Lion and Wolff built a roster of groundbreaking musicians, including Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Wayne Shorter, Thelonious Monk and Quincy Jones.

Blue Note became known for a distinctive sound and for unique album covers, as well as offering African-American musicians respect and opportunities usually denied them at that time. Lion’s frequent and accented pronouncement that the music must “schwing” gives the upbeat documentary its title. He and his wife, Ruth, Blue Note’s publicity director, moved to North County in 1978, where he lived until his death in 1987.

The festival’s centerpiece film Wednesday is “Who Will Write Our History.” It was directed and co-produced by Roberta Grossman, who may be familiar to past festival-goers here. She will be honored this year with the festival’s Beacon Award.

“When we curate the festival, we pay attention to the directors,” Fink noted. “Have we shown their films before? In her case, we screened ‘Hava Nagila (The Movie)’ and ‘Above and Beyond: The Birth of the Israeli Air Force.’ Then we go through those directors a second time because it’s clear we like their work. We chose Roberta because of our admiration for her films.”

A recent critic’s pick in The New York Times, “Who Will Write Our History” uses re-enactments and voice-overs to depict the arduous and risky efforts of Jewish writers and scholars in the Warsaw Ghetto. Led by historian Emanuel Ringelblum, the group, code-named Oyneg Shabes, archived and buried hundreds of drawings and writings — later unearthed — so that their lives and culture would be remembered. The film is narrated by actors Joan Allen and Oscar winner Adrien Brody.

“We handpick with careful deliberation any film that touches on the Holocaust,” Fink said. “It has to shine a light on an unknown or little-told story. That’s the value of ‘Who Will Write Our History.’ ”

Other likely highlights

This year, the San Diego International Jewish Film Festival is showing only feature-length movies now that the shorts-filled Joyce Forum has spun off into its own event in the fall. However, on Feb. 17, “Brews and Views” will serve up local craft beer with five short films at Hillcrest’s Project Bar and Grill.

For its annual Teen Screen event, the festival will show “Heading Home: The Tale of Team Israel.” A David-and-Goliath story, it chronicles Israel’s national baseball team finally making it to the World Baseball Classic. Complete with kosher and dairy pizza, the Tuesday screening will feature a Q&A with former San Diego Padre Cody Decker, who has also played for Team Israel and the Arizona Diamondbacks.

“The Redemption” follows a widowed father’s struggle to cover the costs of his daughter’s cancer treatment. Lead actor Moshe Folkenflik has been widely praised for his role as the conflicted parent, who reluctantly turns to his pre-religion rock ’n’ roll band.

“Far From the Tree” is a documentary featuring a married couple from San Diego in its depiction of several parents nurturing developmentally different children in supportive and positive ways. The featured couple, Mission Valley’s Leah Smith and Joseph A. Stramondo, will participate in the Q&As accompanying the film’s three screenings. He is an assistant philosophy professor at San Diego State University, while she is a media and entertainment advocate at the Center for Disability Rights.

In addition to Clairemont Reading Cinemas, the festival will also screen movies at the David & Dorothea Garfield Theatre in La Jolla, the Museum of Photographic Arts in Balboa Park, and Edwards San Marcos 18.

San Diego International Jewish Film Festival

When: 7 p.m. today through Feb. 17

Where: Clairemont Reading Cinemas 14, 4665 Clairemont Drive, Clairemont; and three other theaters throughout San Diego County

Tickets: $5 to $15.25 single tickets; $36 three-day film pack (San Marcos only); $65 six-matinee pack; $275 all-film pass

Phone: (858) 457-3030


San Diego International Jewish Film Festival’s “Brews and Views”

When: 5 p.m. Feb. 17

Where: Project Bar and Grill, 3683 Fifth Ave., Hillcrest

Tickets: $15.25

Phone: (858) 457-3030


Wood is a freelance writer.