A month after the final curtain call of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, and another opportunity for film buffs to come together is nigh. The Santa Barbara Jewish Film Festival (SBJFF), held March 19-22, offers opportunities for viewers to immerse themselves in Jewish culture via cinema that they might not get to experience otherwise. And nosh, of course.
The festival includes 10 programs, which will showcase feature films, documentaries, and short films from all over the world. Mashey Bernstein, co-chair of SBJFF, noted that the festival isn’t just a celebration of great movies — it’s a community event.
“Even if you can watch these films on Netflix, there’s something to be said about people coming together in a neutral space,” said Bernstein. “There’s a big communal feeling about sharing these films.” In contrast to the larger Santa Barbara International Film Festival, which showcases a wide variety of films (and with which Bernstein is also involved), SBJFF is more focused in scope, offering audiences a look at the Jewish cultural experience from an international perspective. While Bernstein selected films for the festival, he kept the limited size in mind. “Longer festivals can be less choosy,” said Bernstein. With only 10 programs over four days, Bernstein and company aimed to assemble a roster of quality films that entertained and enlightened.
It’s been five years since the last SBJFF. Ron Zonen, co-chair of the festival, felt its absence: “Santa Barbara has a tradition of wonderful cultural events for a town of our size. [SBJFF] was one of those events.” Zonen has been trying to put the festival back on for several years, and while he had the administrative know-how to get it up and running, he needed help. “Part of what was missing was, frankly, [the knowledge of] how to put on a film festival.” Zonen asked Bernstein — a festival veteran he has known for 25 years — to lend his expertise. Bernstein told him to ask him again when he retired. “So, I did,” said Zonen. With Bernstein’s artistic eye and the support of the Jewish Federation of Greater Santa Barbara, SBJFF is back in full swing.
The festival kicks off on Saturday, March 19, at 7 p.m. at the New Vic with a sponsor and pass-holder reception where guests will be treated to Middle-Eastern fare followed by a screening of East Jerusalem/West Jerusalem, a documentary detailing the efforts of Israeli singer/songwriter David Broza — whom Zonen referred to as “Israel’s Bruce Springsteen” — to record an album using American, Palestinian, and Israeli musicians in a studio in East Jerusalem. Steve Earle, Mira Awad, and Yair Dalal — who are of American, Palestinian, and Iraqi Israeli descent, respectively — blend their sounds together over an eight-day period in an effort to turn the discordant, i.e., the Israeli/Palestinian divide, into a miraculous harmony. In a serendipitous turn of events, Broza will be playing at Santa Barbara’s own Lobero Theatre on Monday, April 11. (SBJFF pass holders will receive a 15 percent discount to the show.)
On Sunday, March 20, festivalgoers will enjoy a nosh (bagels, coffee, OJ, etc.) at 10 a.m. followed by a screening of a comedy, Welcome to Kutsher’s: The Last Catskills Resort. The Shorts Program follows, from 1-3 p.m., and offers films that range from lighthearted (Jewish Blind Date) to serious. “One of the most moving films is one of the shorts,” said Zonen. “Sinner is about sexual abuse committed against a child in Jerusalem: a dark film, but very moving.” —Natalia Cohen
The festival runs March 19-20 at the New Vic (33 W. Victoria St.) and March 21-22 at the Riviera Theatre (2044 Alameda Padre Serra). For tickets and more information, call (805) 957-1115 or see sbjewishfilmfestival.org.