13th Annual San Diego Jewish Film Festival

Strange Fruit

First recorded and made famous by Billie Holiday in 1939, the searing and controversial song "Strange Fruit" is the subject of this excellent Joel Katz documentary. The little-known story of the song's creation by Abel Meeropol, a Jewish high school teacher from the Bronx who wrote under the name Lewis Allen, provides a framework for Katz to examine not only the subject of the song--lynching in the South--but also the political activities of immigrant Jews, the world of jazz music publishing and the lives of African-Americans. Meeropol co-wrote "The House I Live In," popularized by Frank Sinatra in an Academy Award-winning short film about brotherhood and understanding.

Director: Joel Katz

USA, 2002; BETA, 56 min., Color; English

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The House I Live In

This Academy Award-winning 1945 short stars Frank Sinatra. Using the title tune (co-written by Abel Meeropol under the pseudonym Lewis Allen), Sinatra teaches children about racial equality and religious understanding.

Director: Mervyn LeRoy

USA, 1945; BETA, 10 min., Black & White; English

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Paths To Peace

In the summer of 2001, thirty Israeli and American teenagers came together to build relationships and explore issues of Jewish-Arab coexistence within Israel. Organized by the Jacobs International Teen Leadership Institute (JITLI), with resources provided by the United Jewish Federation of San Diego County and the Center for Jewish-Arab Peace Studies at Givat Haviva, this film documented the group's two-week experience of exchanging views and making connections while traveling through Spain and Israel. Through this unique opportunity to share cultures, the participants discovered that they have more in common than they had imagined, and found that dialogue is possible even when profound differences exist. This is a story of hope about Jewish-Arab coexistence among future generations.

Director: Cindy Burstein & Tony Heriza

USA, 2001; BETA, 57 min., Color; English

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A Little Drive

This film was originally screened in synagogue as director Rabbi Nesenoff's sermon before Passover. In only a few minutes, the story of humanity, Joseph, 9/11, life, desperation and hope are revealed in a moving, compelling manner.

Director: Rabbi David Floyd Nesenoff

USA, 2002; BETA, 11 min., Color, English

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Today You Are a Fountain Pen *

Starring Len Lesser (Uncle Leo from the hit TV series Seinfeld), this film is a touching story about a unique relationship between a grandfather and his grandson before the boy's Bar Mitzvah.

Director: Dan Katzir

USA, 2002; BETA, 10 min.; Color, English

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A Home on the Range: The Jewish Chicken Ranchers of Petaluma

Audiences at last summer's San Francisco Jewish Film Festival came away raving about this fascinating documentary by veteran Bay Area filmmakers Bonnie Burt and Judith Montell. It's the little-known story of Yiddish-speaking refugees escaping from persecution in 19th century Eastern Europe, who travel halfway around the world, only to end up raising chickens in Petaluma! What follows is a saga of left-wing politics, skirmishes with McCarthyism, the effects of intermarriage on the community and eventual competition from huge "factory farms."

Directors: Bonnie Burt & Judith Montell

USA, 2002; BETA, 52 min., Color; English

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Song of a Jewish Cowboy

Scott Gerber is Jewish and a single father in his early 40s. He's also a working cowboy who sings Yiddish folk songs! While entertaining us with melodies he learned from his mother, grandmother and members of the Jewish chicken farming community around Petaluma, he shares stories of life in the saddle.

Director: Bonnie Burt

USA, 2002; BETA, 18 min., Color; English/Yiddish with English Subtitles

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The Wax and the Wicks

This humorous yet moving visit to a Long Island beauty parlor allows us to eavesdrop on patrons and staff as they give their views on hairstyles, religion, recipes and reactions to 9/11.

Director: Rabbi David Floyd Nesenoff

USA, 2002; BETA, 13 min., Color; English

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Gloomy Sunday

Set in pre-WWII Budapest, this magnificent German film, winner of numerous awards here and abroad, fills the screen with rich textures, indelible characters and a song that has haunted listeners for over half a century. First and foremost this is a love story, a ménage a trois that gets even more complicated as time passes. It's also built around the title song, a haunting Hungarian ballad, blamed for an outbreak of suicides, that was later recorded and popularized by Billie Holiday. Finally, it is an eloquent story of war and its aftermath, right up to the stunning twist at the end. Lush cinematography, magnificent score, superb acting and a compelling story, make this an unforgettable cinematic experience.

Director: Rolf Schubel

Germany/Hungary, 1999; 35mm, 114 min., Color; German with English Subtitles

Winner, Society's Finest Award, Cinema Society of San Diego, 2001-02 Season

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Madstone Hazard Center 7 Theatres

Blue Vinyl

A must-see for activists, consumers, and people who want to make a difference! Audiences around the world agree -- Peabody Award-winning documentary filmmaker Judith Helfand's latest masterpiece has made an indelible impression. Using a comedic approach to a deadly serious subject, Helfand tracks down, in true detective fashion, the lethal by-products of vinyl manufacture and disposal, and even takes us to Italy, where a landmark trial is underway. You'll never look at anything vinyl -- siding, windows, plastic toys, credit cards, I.V. bags and a myriad of other everyday items -- the same way again! What is a documentary about PVC (polyvinyl chloride) doing in a Jewish film festival? Caroline Libresco, at Sundance 2002 explained: "Blue Vinyl will ask Jewish audiences to reframe and rethink the tenet l'dor v'dor, from one generation to the next, as the literal and unwitting passing onto our children of a dangerous and persistent toxic chemical burden..."

Directors: Judith Helfand & Daniel Gold

USA, 2002; BETA, 98 min., Color; English

Documentary Award for Excellence, Sundance Film Festival, 2002

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Nowhere In Africa

An adaptation of the best-selling autobiography by Stephanie Zweig, Nowhere in Africa became a #1 box-office hit in Germany, and won a host of awards in that country, including Outstanding Feature Film, Best Direction, Cinematography, Music and Supporting Actor. Before World War II, Kenya was a British colony that took in several hundred Jewish refugees from Germany, Poland, Hungary and Russia. Director Caroline Link lets us share the life of one formerly wealthy German Jewish family as it struggles with existence on a remote farm in the Kenyan countryside. Their devoted African farmhand (in a marvelous portrayal by Sidede Onyulo) holds the family together despite unimaginable difficulties.

Director: Caroline Link

Germany, 2001; 35mm, 142 min., Color; German with English Subtitles

Winner, Best Picture, Best Direction & Best Supporting Actor, German Film Awards, 2002

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A religious young Israeli man works in a bookstore with a secular young woman. He must make the difficult choice between his strict upbringing and his attraction to her. A moving and beautifully photographed short film from Hadassah College student Shanny Tills.

Director: Shanny Tills

Israel, 2001; 16mm, 17 min., Color; Hebrew with English Subtitles

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Ultrastar Poway Creekside Plaza 10

A Home on the Range: The Jewish Chicken Ranchers of Petaluma

Audiences at last summer's San Francisco Jewish Film Festival came away raving about this fascinating documentary by veteran Bay Area filmmakers Bonnie Burt and Judith Montell. It's the little-known story of Yiddish-speaking refugees escaping from persecution in 19th century Eastern Europe, who travel halfway around the world, only to end up raising chickens in Petaluma! What follows is a saga of left-wing politics, skirmishes with McCarthyism, the effects of intermarriage on the community and eventual competition from huge "factory farms."

Directors: Bonnie Burt & Judith Montell

USA, 2002; BETA, 52 min., Color; English

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Song of Hannah

A visionary poet who felt that she had been chosen for a special mission, Hannah Senesh left her kibbutz and volunteered to parachute into her native Hungary to rescue victims of the Holocaust, but she was caught and executed in the last days of the war. A marriage of documentary and visual poetry, this personal tale of her life weaves intimate interviews with her mission commander, a fellow prisoner, family and friends with Hannah's own powerful words. Contemporary voices of students from a school founded in her name keep her spirit alive. Song of Hannah embraces these youths as valid storytellers, tracing Hannah's story from Hungary to Israel and back, and ultimately leading us to the unlikely destination of Brooklyn.

Director: Nicole Opper

USA, 2002; BETA, 45 min., Color; English

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A gripping drama based on actual events, Egoz follows 44 Moroccan Jews attempting to escape what they see as rising anti-Semitism in their country. Director Eli Cohen (Under the Domim Tree) focuses on a prominent Jewish Casablanca family as they frantically face their situation, and the terrible decision they must make, even as the authorities are tracking them down. The year: 1961. The plan: board the boat Egoz, waiting offshore under cover of darkness; get across to Gibraltar; then sail to Israel.

Under Cohen's expert direction, and with cinematography to match, we recapture a time, before hate and madness intruded, when Jews and Muslims lived peacefully, side-by-side.

Director: Eli Cohen

Israel, 1999; BETA, 120 min., Color; Arabic/French w/Subtitles

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Living For Tomorrow

New York-based filmmaker Lilach Dekel, who grew up in Israel, brings us the inspiring stories of women, now in their 80s and 90s, who went to Palestine in the 20s and embraced the rigorous life on the kibbutzim. Rare archival footage is interspersed with personal stories of Dekel's grandmother and others, all of whom experienced the hardships of communal agricultural life, with all its limitations—made bearable only by their dreams for a future for Israel.

Director: Lilach Dekel

USA, 2001; BETA, 53 min., B/W & Color; Hebrew/English/Yiddish w/Subtitles

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A Righteous Man

An admiring look at the life and career of Nelson Mandela and his struggle against apartheid, as seen through the eyes of some of his long-time Jewish friends and supporters. Commissioned by the Kaplan-Kushlick Foundation for the South African Jewish Museum, Capetown.

Director: Ingrid Gavshon

South Africa, 2001; BETA, 24 min., Color, English

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Divided We Fall

Set in a small Czech town occupied by the Germans during WWII, this dramatic, yet touching, film shows how ordinary people can do heroic things, almost in spite of themselves. David, a young Jew who has escaped from a concentration camp and returned to his home town, is given refuge by Josef and Marie Cizek, a childless Czech couple, who now must do everything to prevent the authorities from discovering him and ordering the execution of their entire street. Things go from bad to worse when Horst, their Czech-German neighbor, a Nazi collaborator in love with, but rebuffed by Marie, threatens to place a Nazi official in the Cizeks' house—a move certain to reveal David's hiding place! A black comedy filled with the unexpected.

Director: Jan Hrebejk

Czech Republic, 2000; BETA, 117 min., Color; Czech/German w/Subtitles; For Mature Audiences

Nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language film

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Desperate Hours

This riveting documentary by Victoria Barrett and Michael Berenbaum tells the little- known story of Turkey and the Holocaust. A unique chapter in history reveals how Turkey recruited some of the intellectual elite being forced out of German life to revamp Turkish sciences, architecture, music, medicine, legal education and art; how Turkey served as a base for illegal Jewish immigration to Palestine; how Archbishop Roncalli, who later became Pope John XXIII, worked with delegates of the Yishuv to get information on the fate of Jews and to rescue the few who could be rescued; and how the Brand Mission--the attempt in 1944 to trade one million Jews for 10,000 trucks--evolved and eventually collapsed. "Don't miss it," says Washington Jewish Week magazine.

Director: Victoria Barrett

USA, 2001; 16mm, 64 min., B/W & Color; English

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A Bridge of Books

San Francisco-based filmmaker Sam Ball has created a brief but beautiful tribute to the National Yiddish Book Center, located in Amherst, MA. Here we find the world's largest collection of Yiddish books–many of which had been on the verge of being discarded or destroyed–that have been devotedly digitized and made available for reprinting, rebinding and redistribution anywhere in the world.

Director: Samuel Ball

USA, 2001; BETA, 13 min., B/W & Color; English

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Inherit the Earth

With stunning photography and beautiful sound and score, this documentary, elegantly narrated by Liam Neeson, takes us to the shores of the Sea of Galilee where an Israeli construction company is racing against the clock, fighting the rain and mud, to prepare for the Pope's historic 2000 visit. The seemingly-impossible task: to build--in just six weeks--a huge, covered stage and an amphitheater for the Pope's mass before 100,000 young people from around the globe.

Israel, 2001; BETA, 80 min., Color; Hebrew w/Subtitles

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Another thriller from renowned Greek director Constantin Costa-Gavras (Z, The Confession, Missing) that pulls no punches as it examines the Vatican's and Pope Pius XII's failure to speak out against the Nazis. In parallel plots, a fictionalized young Jesuit (portrayed by French actor/director Mathieu Kassovitz) rails against the Vatican's inaction, while SS officer Kurt Gerstein (German actor Ulrich Tukur) attempts to tell the world of death camp horrors he personally witnessed and helped perpetrate. Based on Rolf Hochhuth's 1964 Broadway drama, The Deputy, this controversial and deeply unsettling movie looks into the souls of two individuals who strive to make a difference within the power structures of which they are a part.

Director: Constantin Costa-Gavras

France, 2001; 35mm, 130 min., Color; English

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A Trumpet in the Wadi

This engaging film, wonderfully adapted from a novel by Sami Michel, won widespread acclaim in Israel despite the problematic story about the romance between a Russian-Jewish immigrant trumpet player and his neighbor, an Arab woman still living at home with her mother, sister and grandfather. If the political tensions weren't enough, imagine the family dynamics! Directors Lina and Slava Chaplin bring charm, humor, and above all, plausibility to this very human tale of ordinary people trying to share normal lives in a community that is anything but ordinary and normal. "The film A Trumpet in the Wadi, based on a story by Israeli writer Sammy Michael, won first prize among 19 competitors in the category of love stories in the Liki-Luberi International Film Festival held in Moscow this week. The prize was a golden Cupid's arrow and a large heart made of chocolate presented by the judges to Lena and Slava Chaplin, who directed and acted in the film. Among the noted guests at the festival was the actress Faye Dunaway."

Directors: Lina Chaplin & Slava Chaplin

Israel/USA, 2001; BETA, 97 min., Color; Hebrew/Arabic w/Subtitles; For Mature Audiences

Israeli Academy Award for Best Drama Best Film, Haifa International Film Festival

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The Settlers

One of the thorniest issues between Israel and the Palestinians is that of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza. This documentary by Ruth Walk focuses on perhaps the most controversial of these: Tel Rumeida, in the center of the Arab city of Hebron. Protected by the IDF, the seven Orthodox families (and their 43 children) are shown as they go about their daily lives, seemingly oblivious to the political maelstrom swirling around them.

Director: Ruth Walk

Israel, 2002; BETA, 58 min., Color; Hebrew w/Subtitles

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Between the Lines

In this extraordinary documentary, we meet Amira Hess, the only Israeli journalist living and reporting from the Palestinian territories. Having moved from Gaza, where she was beaten (and published a book about it), Hess writes about West Bank happenings for Ha'aretz, the respected Israeli daily newspaper. Filmmaker Yifat Kedar follows Hess on her daily rounds, covering the growing violence of a dissolving peace process. Her personal privations are also highlighted as her water is cut off and the Israeli army tries to restrict her movement. By telling the truth as she sees it, is she a traitor or a saint? You decide.

Director: Yifat Kedar

Israel, 2001; BETA, 58 min., Color; Hebrew/Arabic w/Subtitles

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Yellow Asphalt

Israeli filmmaking reaches a new level of dramatic excellence with this fascinating trilogy, shot on location in the scorching heat of the Judean desert. A common theme – the stark differences between ancient Bedouin traditions and modern life in Israel – runs through and informs the three stories. In the first, two Israeli truckers accidentally kill a Bedouin boy on the highway and then must face his furious family. Next, a German woman, trapped in an unhappy marriage to a Bedouin man, desperately tries to escape with their children. In the final hour-long segment, a married Bedouin woman is having an affair with her Jewish employer, and gets caught, with catastrophic consequences for everyone concerned. Director Danny Verete employed many non-actors from the Bedouin community in this inter-cultural triumph.

Director: Danny Verete

Israel, 2000; 35mm, 87 min., Color; Hebrew/Arabic w/Subtitles

Best Film, Haifa International Film Festival

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The Man Without a World

Internationally renowned artist-filmmaker and UCSD professor Eleanor Antin gave this remarkable film the look and feel of a 20s silent melodrama. All the elements of classic Yiddish cinema are here—dybbuks, weddings, exorcisms—as the story focuses on a merchant's daughter whose lover is seduced away by a cigar-smoking ballerina (played by Antin herself) while the Angel of Death lurks nearby. "A strange and wickedly imaginative film," says the Vancouver Jewish Film Festival.

Director: Eleanor Antin

USA, 1991; 16mm, 96 min., Black & White; English

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UltraStar La Costa 6

Il Cielo Cade (The Sky is Falling)

Based on the semi-autobiographical novel by Lorenza Mazzetti, and featuring a magnificent Isabella Rossellini very reminiscent of her mother, Ingrid Bergman, this film transports us to Tuscany during World War II. Two recently- orphaned sisters (the elder is based on the author herself) have come to live with their aunt (Rossellini) and her German husband (Jeroen Krabbe) in their idyllic country villa. All seems to be going well for the little girls, and even when German soldiers occupy the home and pose a threat to their uncle, the clever sisters use all their resources to protect him. Ironically, with Nazi defeat looming and Allied victory at hand, the family is finally confronted with the cruel reality of war.

Directors: Andrea Frazzi & Antonio Frazzi

Italy, 2000; 35mm, 120 min., Color; Italian w/Subtitles

Winner of Special Mention at the Berlin International Film Festival

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Completing a trilogy preceded by the award-winning films Kadosh (1999) and Kippur (2000), Amos Gitai excavates again in the entrails of Israel. May 1948, a few days before the creation of the state of Israel, a rusted boat – the Kedma – conveys survivors from the Shoah to Palestine. In Hebrew, Kedma means towards the East, showing the direction to recovery to these barely living survivors of the Nazi horror. Upon their arrival, they are welcomed by British army shootings and then enrolled into the Jewish secret army. Gitai attempts to depict the chaotic trajectory of a small community in search of an illusory kibbutz where they will be able to settle. But it is precisely this ground, at the center of the action, that is claimed by both Jews and Arabs, whose meetings are the most intense moments of the film. Through Gitai's signature camera style, the spectator witnesses the triggering of an inescapable process of violence that, as recent events attest, hasn't been resolved.

Director: Amos Gitai

Israel/France/Italy, 2002; 35mm, 110 min., Color; Hebrew w/Subtitles

Screened at Cannes, May 2002

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L'Chayim, Comrade Stalin

San Diego's own Yale Strom returns to the San Diego Jewish Film Festival with another fascinating look at the remnants of Eastern European Jewry. This time though, Strom ventures to the Far East – to the Jewish Autonomous Region (JAR) of Birobidzhan in Siberia, created in 1928 by a Soviet regime anxious to find an alternative to rising Jewish religious expression and the growing Zionist movement in the USSR. We ride the Trans-Siberian Railroad with Strom and his party, which includes an anti-Semitic translator (coincidentally the grandson of Mikhail Kalinin, first Soviet president and architect of the JAR) and the necessary bodyguard. Arriving in Birobidzhan, Strom tracks down some of the original pioneers of the Region, which still has 5,000 Jewish inhabitants. Strom has written a powerful musical score to interweave with footage of residents recalling old Yiddish songs brought here over 70 years ago.

Director: Yale Strom

USA, 2002; 35mm, 94 min., Color; English/Russian/Yiddish w/Subtitles

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Last Dance

The star of this fascinating documentary film is... the creative process! Director Mirra Bank kept the camera running while the members of Pilobilus Dance Company worked tirelessly with famed author-illustrator Maurice Sendak (Where The Wild Things Are), whose goal was to construct a dance, The Selection, in memory of the many relatives he lost during the Holocaust. Patiently observing this yearlong process, Bank shows us the tenacious genius of Sendak, and the athletic artistry of the dancers as they improvise their way to a stunningly choreographed work.

Director: Mirra Bank

USA, 2002; BETA, 84 min., Color; English

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Lifetime Guarantee: Phranc's Adventures in Plastic

Phranc was a punk rocker in the 80s, then a folk singer, and now she's a self-described "All-American Jewish lesbian surfin' Tupperware lady!" That's right, Tupperware; and Lisa Udelson's documentary follows her to Tupperware conventions and musical Tupperware parties, overcoming homophobia as she promotes the product that typifies family values in the U.S.A.

Director: Lisa Udelson

USA, 2001; BETA, 58 min., Color; English

Winner of the Audience Award at L.A.'s Outfest

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