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    The San Francisco Jewish Film Festival 42!

    By Jan Wahl–

    Judgement at Nuremberg, with Judy Garland and Montgomery Clift killing it as survivors of Nazi cruelty. The Sorrow and the Pity, a documentary spectacular about France’s vicious Vichy government. Gentleman’s Agreement, reminding us that sometimes antisemitism is at its worst not with brownshirts or the Klan, but via a quiet evil of exclusion. From the terrifying imagination of Jojo Rabbit to the murder in Crossfire, movies with a Jewish subtext or theme have been powerful reminders of injustices that could happen again.  

    Our trusty San Francisco Jewish Film Festival comes along July 21 through August 7 with amazing foreign and domestic films, tributes, and documentaries at the Castro Theatre and the Albany East Bay. I’ll definitely be at the Castro on July 25 for the special preview of The U.S. and the Holocaust, featuring filmmakers Ken Burns, Lynn Novick, and Sarah Botstein, and moderated by Michael Krasny. Burns is a documentarian extraordinaire. He has edited down for this event a series he is doing on the U.S. reaction to the Holocaust. It includes a look into the American roots of Nazi sympathizers.  

    That brings us to one of the festival films I’ve already previewed: 10 Questions for Henry Ford. This feature length documentary confirms and illuminates a little-known fact that my mother would tell me about when I was growing up.  Henry Ford was a virulent anti Semite who invented the Model T but also inspired Hitler and the Third Reich. Through archival documents and his own diary, we see into the man who might have owned the world, but hated Jews more than anybody this side of Hitler himself. I am glad this story is finally being told.

    Lexi Leban is a film producer and the Executive Director of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival. She recently told me for the San Francisco Bay Times: “We have 71 films, an all-time high. Short programs, tributes, documentaries, animation, experimental and features. We go for transcendent experiences, radiant truths, sometimes upending narratives.”

    “This has been a wonderful festival over the years,” she added. “We gave an award to Kirk Douglas, did an important retrospective on the Hollywood Blacklist, our Israeli series Prisoners of War became the American hit Homeland, and [there were] so many others.”

    This year, Lexi has her favorites. “Bernstein’s Wall is the story of Leonard Bernstein, but not his music as much as his hidden gay identity,” she said. “Brilliant and way ahead of her time feminist rebel Andrea Dworkin provides us with a deep dive into her maverick thinking and intellectual genius. We all need laughter and escapism.”

    “Opening night’s Karaoke is perfect, about an older couple who finds joy and sexuality in a surprising way,” she continued. “A local film, Holding Moses, tells of a queer woman who gives birth to a son using butoh dance, using it to push through a traumatic version of motherhood.”

    “Closing night is Let it Be Morning, by an Israeli and Palestinian filmmaker,” she shared. “Sergei Loznitsa’s Babi Yar uses archival footage, but produces modern relevant questions, reminding us that art and compassion have no boundaries. Charm Circle is somewhat evocative of Grey Gardens, a cinema verité look at a mentally challenged family.” 

    Thank you to Lexi and her team for reminding us that movies are powerful: changing thoughts, minds, and hearts. See you at the festival!

    Jan Wahl is a Hollywood historian, film critic on various broadcast outlets, and has her own YouTube channel series, “Jan Wahl Showbiz.” She has two Emmys and many awards for her longtime work on behalf of film buffs and the LGBTQ community. Contact her at

    Published on July 14, 2022