It’s official: You don’t have to be Jewish to love the Santa Barbara Jewish Film Festival.
Neatly summed up by its tag line, Fifth Annual Santa Barbara Jewish Film Festival, this year’s event is again aimed at connecting with a broad audience, said founder Barbara Greenleaf. “The Santa Barbara Jewish Film Festival focuses on the human condition. We like to think of ourselves as the thinking person’s film festival, and we want our viewers to leave every showing eager to compare their take on the material with that of others in the audience,” she said, pointing out that the films she selected contain themes that relate to people from all walks of life.
Featured speakers at this year’s festival include Kenneth Turan, who has been a film critic for the Los Angeles Times since 1991; Academy Award-nominated screenwriter and director Paul Mazursky, one of whose films is included in the lineup; and Cass Warner, granddaughter of legendary studio head Harry Warner, who has continued in the family business. “Our attendees will have a chance to interact around film on the highest level,” said Greenleaf. Mazursky will also be presenting a tribute to the recently deceased Ron Silver, the star of his screen adaptation of Isaac Bashevis Singer’s novel Enemies: A Love Story.
As a nonprofit, the festival underwrites the cost of film tickets in order to offer reasonably priced viewing experiences to members of the community. In addition to offering some free tickets to people unable to afford them, partnerships were made with the Santa Barbara Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Santa Barbara City College’s School of Media Arts, and Just Communities to offer group members discount tickets. Films will be shown at the Metro 4 Theatre, located at 618 State Street.
SBJFF number five will open at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 23, with Kenneth Turan presenting a series of silent short films by Max Davidson. Appearing in more than 180 films over his career, Davidson was known for his comic Jewish persona during the silent film era. Accompanied by a jazzy soundtrack, the collection of films is a politically incorrect comedic interpretation of early 20th-century immigrants and their attempts to adjust to their new American lives.
The opening gala will be held later that day, at the La Cumbre Country Club at 5:30 p.m., featuring Jewish “comfort food” and the Ventura Klezmer Band. Dinner will be followed, at 7:45 p.m., by the full-length feature A Love to Hide. In the subtitled French film set in Paris during World War II, a strange trifecta of discrimination, love, and war ensue as a Christian family with a homosexual son hides a Jewish girl, who has lost her entire family in the Holocaust, from Nazi authorities.
On Friday, April 24, Prudy and Steve Handelman will host a reception and buffet lunch for program donors at their restored Victorian home, located at 2121 Garden Street. Turan-the festival’s official critic-in-residence-will be on hand to answer questions. Due to the lectures being given by the Dalai Lama at UCSB that day, no films will be shown. However, screenings will resume at the not-too-early hour of 2 p.m. on Saturday, April 25, with the subtitled German film Max Minsky and Me. A family comedy centered around basketball and a bat mitzvah, it has received widespread play at Jewish film festivals around the world.
Saturday’s afternoon screening will feature Bridge over the Wadi, an Israeli documentary about the challenges faced by the first elementary school open to both Arab and Jewish children. Jarrod Schwartz, executive director of Just Communities, will moderate a post-viewing discussion. At 7:45 p.m., the Israeli film Strangers, which garnered attention at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival, follows the conflict-laden love story of a former Israeli soldier and a free-spirited Palestinian woman who meet at a World Cup Soccer match in Europe.
The Warner Brothers trailer.
The final day of SBJFF dawns early on Sunday, April 26, at 8 a.m. with Sunday Morning Live! at Congregation B’nai B’rith, located at 1000 San Antonio Creek Road. Breakfast will be followed at 9 a.m. by a presentation by Cass Warner about her documentary The Brothers Warner, which gets into the nitty gritty of her family’s story. Back at the Metro 4 at 10:45 a.m., In Search of the Bene Israel follows an American Fulbright scholar to India on her search for her Indian grandmother’s ancient Jewish community. At 11:45 a.m., The Fire Within looks at a primitive Jewish community in Peru’s Amazonian jungle, the legacy of men who traveled there to seek their fortune during the early 20th-century rubber boom.
The festival’s final film, Mazursky’s Enemies: A Love Story, tells Isaac Bashevis Singer’s story of a man’s life spinning out of control. Living in post-World War II New York City, his life is consumed by relationships with three women from his past as he ghostwrites a book for a celebrity rabbi.
The Santa Barbara Jewish Film Festival runs Thursday, April 23, through Sunday, April 26. Passes are $115; individual tickets are $12 general, $8 for students. For more information, call 964-5577 or see jewishfilmfoundation.org.