Christina Fink
Christina Fink

You can tell a lot about any of the 35 movies to be shown at the 30th annual San Diego International Film Festival (SDIJFF)  Feb. 13-23 by when it will be screened, and in some cases where.

Christina Fink, the Film Festival’s chair, explains, for example, that the Opening Night film and the Closing Night film are carefully selected to be upbeat offerings.

Opening night, she said, should be a crowd-pleaser. “If you are inviting people into your festival, you’re not going to start with the Holocaust, or a drama, or Jewish history, or medieval history, or heavy learning experiences. You want something that is really stunning, and Picture of His Life is really magnificent.  It is about a nature photographer, who is Israeli.  You learn about him, and the photography is absolutely jaw-dropping.  It’s like starting your dinner with dessert.”

The festival’s on-line brochure describes the opener this way: “Fascinated by the most formidable underwater creatures, world-renowned Israeli photographer Amos Nachoum brazenly puts himself into his subjects’ environment and captures some of the most breathtaking images of our time.  Now Nachoum is on a quest for the ‘picture of his life’ by swimming with and photographing a polar bear.  This breathtaking documentary follows Nachoum and his team to the freezing Arctic, where we see the intense preparation and patience necessary for his work and come to understand why he believes that nature is necessary to maintain a peaceful and joyous life.”

When Picture of His Life is initially screened at 7 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 13, at the Clairemont Reading Cinemas 14 (4665 Clairemont Drive), filmmaker Dani Menkin will introduce the film, conduct a question-and-answer session, and receive the SDIJFF Beacon Award, which is presented to “filmmakers who shine new light on little-known stories.”

The film will be screened a second time at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 18, at La Paloma Theatre (471 South Coast Highway 101) in Encinitas, one of five venues that will be utilized over the film festival’s 11-day run.  Film festival organizers are testing the La Paloma Theatre as a venue. Giving North County coastal residents an opportunity to see the opening night film on their home turf is the festival’s way of putting its best foot forward.

The three other SDIJFF venues are the Garfield Theatre of the Lawrence Family JCC (4126 Executive Drive) in La Jolla; The Museum of Photographic Arts in Balboa Park; and White Labs, a brewery at 9495 Candida Street, San Diego.

Just as the festival organizers want the Opening Night to be upbeat, so too do they want the closing night selection to leave them smiling.  This year, the closer is the French film Douze Points (12 points), which will be shown Sunday, Feb. 12, at the Clairemont Reading Cinemas 14.  According to the festival’s brochure, “In this action-comedy, Tarik (TJ), a French-Muslim gay man, prepared to compete in Europe’s largest TV singing contest when a local ISIS terror cell makes him an offer he can’t refuse so that they can infiltrate Israel for the contest’s finale.  The resulting chaos that erupts between the terrorists, Mossad, and the contest’s participants makes for a hilarious satire of today’s culture and politics.”

Why was this one selected for closing night?  “What we have come to appreciate is that we have some pretty hard-core festival-goers and they literally sit there over 11 days watching films,” Fink responded. “I like to end on a light note; nothing heavy, no heavy dramas; no Holocaust, no downers.  So, the film we pick is either going to be a comedy which is fun and lively and leaves you dancing out of the theatre, or it is something pro-Israel, or positive, something very upbeat.”

She added that “there is actually a vocabulary word –Festival fatigue—that comes from having sat watching films for so many days.  So they (audiences) want to come, they want to be a part, but emotionally they are done.  They want something fun.”

Between the opening and closing film are ten days of programming.  How are the other 33 films scheduled?

Fink responds that there are various criteria.

“We offer one film for teenagers, and that is carefully selected.  By teens, I mean junior high and high school students.  We want them to learn something about Jewish history, Jewish culture, maybe the Holocaust – but we can’t do it in the same way you would for an adult with really strong [concentration] camp photos.  We look for a film to fill that spot all year long—and this year we chose The Samuel Project.

According to the festival brochure, this is a “warm family dramedy.  Eli, a high school senior and artist-to-be, recruits his grandfather, a reluctant San Diego dry cleaner named Samuel, to be the subject of his school’s animated film project which will showcase his grandfather’s inspiring story of Holocaust survival. Though they had never been close, Eli and Samuel develop an important relationship as they spend time together and excavate family history.”

Accompanied by a kosher pizza party, this film will be shown exclusively to the teens at 6 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 19 at the Clairemont Reading Cinemas 14, and to other festival goers at the same theatre at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 18, and 7 p.m., Wednesday, Feb 19.  A bonus is that Ryan Ochoa, a young man with some Jewish ancestors who stars as Eli will attend the screening and participate in a Q&A with the teens.  Some of the locales in the film they are certain to recognize.  They include the San Diego Jewish Academy, Balboa Park, Point Loma, North Park, Ramona, and downtown San Diego.

Another audience to which the festival wishes to appeal are young adults, whom Fink identifies as people in their 20s and 30s.  The films selected for “Brews and Views” at the White Labs brewery in Mira Mesa at 5 p.m., Sunday, Feb. 23 are innovative short films …. intended to invite that demographic into the culture, but not hit them with anything preachy,” according to Fink.  Over the years, short films became so popular at the San Diego International Jewish Film Festival that they were spun off into their own festival, which this year will be conducted October 23-25.  That festival is known as the “Joyce Forum” after the now retired maven of shorts, Joyce Axelrod.  Axelrod has been succeeded as the producer of the Joyce Forum by Francine Ginsburg.

Eight members of the screening committee, including Fink, watch between 300 and 400 films a year before they winnow their selections down to 35 films, typically nearly evenly divided between documentaries and feature films.  The other members of the selection committee for this year’s festival were Herb Adelman, Judy Friedel, Michele Kipnis, Leslie Oster, Saundra Saperstein, Sandra Silverstein and Sarah Scott.

When committee members settle on films that have to do with the visual arts or with writing, they often slot them for viewing at the Museum of Photographic Arts in Balboa Park “because, obviously, the museums down there draw that kind of crowd,” Fink commented.

The films to be shown at MOPA include  Art Paul of Playboy: The Man Behind the Bunny (7 p.m., Saturday, Feb 15); and four films throughout the day on Sunday, Feb. 16: (1) Angelica; (2) Herni Dauman: Looking Up; (3) What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael; and  (4) Last Stop Coney Island: The Life and Photography of Harold Feinstein.

Yet another category is comprised of what Fink describes as films to be watched during the 1 p.m. hour on  weekdays for people who like to have lunch somewhere, and then go to learn something.  “We don’t serve lunch but here there are films that are really a little more academic, abut history, or nuggets that none of us knew about.  It’s like if you were to take a class during in the middle of the day; it is the same type of learning, or educational mindset.”

Scheduled at the Clairemont Reading Cinemas 14 on Monday, Feb. 17 is Angelica, followed on Feb. 18 by the aforementioned The Samuel Project;  The Mamboniks; Feb. 19 and There Are No Lions in Tel Aviv, Feb. 20.

On Fridays in the late mornings and early afternoons at the Garfield Theatre at the Lawrence Family JCC, SDIJFF has scheduled movies of particular interest to women.  “They are either a story in a documentary about a woman, or the work of a woman filmmaker, or a film in which the woman is the protagonist,” Fink said.  “We found that is a time when women will bring their mothers.  They have a mother-daughter movie, and lunch, especially when the mother is an older woman.  Book clubs will come, and also Hadassah groups come.  It’s a real women’s morning – that’s not to say that a man couldn’t come, but the films are selected for women. They are about what women have accomplished – all these power women who are out there!”

The selections for Friday, Feb. 14 (Valentine’s Day) are Mrs. G and Love in Suspenders.  The following Friday, Feb. 21, will feature The Albanian Code and the aforementioned What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael.

The films that command the largest audiences are those that are shown in the evenings, when spouses or couples can make a date night out of it.  In this category, said Fink, are three films that have been submitted for possible nomination for Oscars.

Submissions, explains Fink, “are the first round for the Oscars: they are within the list of 90” which will be considered for nominations  Typically that number is whittled down to a short list of 10.

The three movies in question, all to be screened at the Clairemont Reading Cinemas 14 are The Mover, to b shown at 7:15 p.m., Feb. 18; Incitement to be shown at 7:15 p.m. Feb. 19, and at 7 p.m., Feb. 20; and  Those Who Remained, is scheduled for 7:45p.m., Feb. 19 and for 6:30 p.m., February 23.

Each of these films represents their countries, says Fink.  Incitement is from Israel; Those Who Remained from Hungary, and The Mover is from Latvia.  Incitement tells the story of Yigal Amir, the assassin of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak RabinThe Mover tells of Zaniis Lipke, who spirited Jewish slave laborers from his factory, and hid them in a bunker on his own property.  Those Who Remained is a postwar story “for mature audiences” about a doctor who survived the Holocaust and a teenage girl he befriends.

With many movies being shown multiple times, the festival will have 79 screenings throughout the Feb. 13-23 run.

Some other evening offerings at the Clairemont Reading Cinemas 14, the hub of the festival:

*The Operative and Standing Up, Falling Down, separate movies respectively at 7 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., on Saturday, Feb. 15.
* There Are No Lions in Tel Aviv; Flawless; and Spider in the Web, respectively at 6:45 p.m., 7 p.m., and 7:30 p.m, Sunday, Feb. 16.
Crescendo; Standing Up, Falling Down, and The Dead of Jaffa, respectively at 6:330 p.m., 7 p.m., and 7:15 p.m., Monday Feb. 17.
The Humorist and Dolce Fine Giornata, respectively at 7 p.m. and 7:15 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 18.
*Love in Suspenders and God of the Piano, respectively at 6:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m, Thursday, Feb. 20.
*Spider in the Web and Mossad, respectively at 7 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

Additional evening offerings at La Paloma Theatre in Encinitas include Dolce Fine Giornata at 7 p.m., Feb. 19, and The Mover, 7:30 p.m., Feb. 20.

For full listings, description of all the movies, ticket prices and reservations, one may access the Festival’s online brochure via this website.

Republished from San Diego Jewish World