Remembering Gene Wilder documentary
Gene Wilder and Cleavon Little in Blazing Saddles; Ron Frank, Remembering Gene Wilder,.

Jewish Film Institute revealed the 67 films from 18 countries featured at the upcoming 43rd San Francisco Jewish Film Festival (SFJFF), running July 20 – August 6, 2023 in San Francisco and the East Bay.

“We are thrilled to bring an expansive slate of films to JFI’s discerning and passionate audiences for our 43rd Festival, and to serve as a celebratory space for community connection, reflection, and conversation,” says Lexi Leban, Executive Director of the Jewish Film Institute. “Each year, SFJFF brings filmmakers together with their audiences for transcendent experiences that deepen our understanding of the new horizons of Jewish storytelling. I am particularly proud this year of the Festival’s expanded footprint in San Francisco, with full days of screenings at both the Castro and Vogue. SFJFF will premiere five groundbreaking films that were nurtured by the JFI Completion Grants and Filmmakers in Residence programs. Come out to the movies! All roads lead to SFJFF43 this summer.”

Opening Night film Remembering Gene Wilder gives us new insight into the beloved actor through never-before-seen home movies and photographs, as well as remembrances from friends and colleagues. Remembering Gene Wilder is a heartfelt tribute to the beloved star of such movie classics as The Producers, Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, The Frisco Kid, and Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. In the latest documentary from Peabody Award-winning filmmaker Ron Frank, this multi-talented performer is dramatically brought to life through never-before-seen home movies and photographs, as well as the intimate insights of friends and colleagues including Mel Brooks, Alan Alda, Carol Kane, Eric McCormack, Harry Connick Jr., Rain Pryor, Karen Wilder, and Peter Ostrum. The documentary also provides intimate revelations by those who knew Wilder best, delving into his traumatic childhood, battle with Alzheimer’s, and relationships with Gilda Radner and his widow Karen. Remembering Gene Wilder reminds us of his stature as the beloved, one-of-a-kind star who could engage audiences with genuine comedic genius and pure imagination.

Bella directed by Jeff L. Lieberman
Bella directed by Jeff L. Lieberman

Closing Night film Bella! about pioneering feminist and politician Bella Abzug brings Abzug’s legacy back to the forefront of the country’s current political discourse through interviews with those she inspired including Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton, Barbra Streisand, Shirley MacLaine, Gloria Steinem, Maxine Waters, and Lily Tomlin. The actor Lisa Edelstein, best known for her work on television series including ER, Frasier, The West Wing, Ally McBeal, House, The Good Wife, Elementary, and Scandal, will receive the 2023 Freedom of Expression Award in conjunction with a screening of Sue Kramer’s short film Swipe NYC which features Edelstein in the starring role.

The Centerpiece Narrative, Leon Prudovsky’s My Neighbor Adolf, is a humorous, off-kilter tale of a cranky and suspicious Holocaust survivor in South America (brilliantly played by the renowned German actor and expected guest Udo Kier) who becomes convinced that his secretive German neighbor is Adolf Hitler. Lex Gillespie’s The Catskills is a nostalgic celebration of vacation resorts in the Borscht Belt that paints a vibrant picture of twentieth century Jewish-American history.

The Local Spotlight, H.P. Mendoza’s The Secret Art of Human Flight, is an arresting collaboration between the San Francisco-based Filipino director and Jewish screenwriter Jesse Orenshein about a young Jewish widower who seeks escape from grief by training with an eccentric stranger who claims his methods will allow the man to fly. From the pen of politically astute Palestinian Israeli writer Sayed Kashua (Arab Labor, The Writer) and Israeli Jewish director Guri Alfi (The Chef) comes the Episodic Spotlight Madrasa, a fast-paced comic TV series set at the Peace School for Bilingual Education in Jerusalem that effortlessly mixes the growing pains of adolescence against a backdrop of more serious conflicts in Israeli society.

For the second consecutive year, SFJFF presents premieres of five films that received support from JFI’s Completion Grants or Filmmakers in Residence programs, which provide financial, material, and creative support to independent storytellers at all stages of the production process from incubation through exhibition. The SFJFF43 Centerpiece Narrative film, Red Herring—about 24-year-old director Kit Vincent’s receipt of a terminal diagnosis and his family’s darkly humorous, spiritual journey to come to terms with the news—was workshopped by Vincent during the 2022 Residency and received a Discretionary Grant the same year. 1341 Frames of Love and War by Ran Tal, a searing documentary portrait of Israel’s most celebrated war photographer, Micha Bar-Am, has received critical acclaim following screenings at Berlinale, Telluride, and DocAviv while The Wild One by Tessa Louise Salomé profiles the singular life of Jack Garfein, a Holocaust survivor and a founder of the Actor’s Studio. Additional JFI-supported films include acclaimed filmmaker and Bay Area legend Ralph Arlyck’s I Like it Here and Luke Lorentzen’s A Still Small Voice, winner of the U.S. Documentary Directing Award at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. The 2023 JFI Completion Grantees will be announced at the Festival’s Opening Night on Thursday, July 20.

Informed by JFI’s commitment to exhibiting works that reflect the Jewish value of Tikkun Olam—repairing the world through one’s actions—the lineup presents no shortage of insightful films that explore questions of human rights, antisemitism, autonomy, coexistence, and conflict. The Body as Battleground: Abortion Access in Post-Roe America groups together Tracy Droz Tragos’ Plan C (the Take Action Spotlight film), Paula Eiselt’s Under G-d, and Jeremy Workman’s Deciding Vote to catalyze discussion around human rights and Jewish perspectives on the struggle for reproductive freedom. Fractured Lens: Divergent Perspectives on Israel and Palestine highlights multiple viewpoints of Israelis, Palestinians, and American Jews exploring their relationship to Israel in the current moment. Films include Alam, Closed Circuit, A Gaza Weekend, Israelism, H2: The Occupation Lab, Madrasa, Mourning in Lod, and Savoy.

Stories exploring diversity in global Jewish life permeate the program. Brad Rothschild’s Rabbi on the Block is an inspiring portrait of Tamar Manasseh, a Black rabbi working tirelessly in her community on the South Side of Chicago to combat racism, misogyny and gun violence. Both Rothschild and Manasseh are expected to attend the World Premiere screening at the Vogue Theater, which is presented in partnership with the Bay Area-based nonprofit Value Culture and followed by a conversation and community Havdalah service nearby at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco. Sephardic, Mizrahi, and Ethiopian Jewish communities are represented in the shorts program Remembering Marrakech, Gad Elmaleh’s Stay With Us, Jake Paltrow’s June Zero, as well as Eliyahu Wonda’s Solomon and Solomon Go Fishing and Sarah Meital Benjamin’s Arava, both short films.

Fitting for a year that invites Bay Area audiences to reconnect in theaters, SFJFF43 highlights several films that explore the power, wonder, and continued resonance of cinema. Nancy Buirski’s Desperate Souls, Dark City and the Legend of Midnight Cowboy explores the larger cultural and political groundswell of masculinity, counterculture and the Vietnam War that converged to create the legendary X-rated film, and the influence of director John Schlesinger’s identity as a closeted gay man on the story. Chandler Levack’s I Like Moves, the Next Wave Spotlight film, offers a cinephile’s take on the familiar coming-of-age story while Valerie Kontakos’ Queen of the Deuce surfaces the story of Greek Jewish entrepreneur Chelly Wilson, who reigned over 42nd Street in Manhattan as the pugnacious matriarch of a skin flick empire. SFJFF43 also invites audiences of all ages to rediscover the Dreamworks animated classic The Prince of Egypt for its 25th anniversary. This adaptation of the Exodus story features an all-star voice cast, award-winning songs by Stephen Schwartz, and score by Hans Zimmer.

SFJFF43 returns to San Francisco’s historic Castro Theatre (July 20–23; July 30), while expanding its San Francisco footprint to the Vogue Theater (July 25–29), before a final week at Landmark’s Piedmont Theatre (August 1–6) in Oakland.

Films & Events at the 43rd San Francisco Jewish Film Festival

Opening Night: Remembering Gene Wilder
Ron Frank, 2023, Documentary, United States • Bay Area Premiere

The endearing comic genius of screen actor Gene Wilder comes to life in this affectionate tribute, chock full of uproarious clips, outtakes and poignant reminiscences. Director Ron Frank, producers David Knight and Julie Nimoy, and participant Karen Wilder expected to attend.

Closing Night: Bella!
Jeff L. Lieberman, 2023, Documentary, United States • United States Premiere

In 1970, Bella Abzug entered Congress ready for a fight. With her trademark hat and Bronx swagger, the first elected feminist upended the Washington patriarchy, battling for women’s equality, civil rights, and LGBTQ+ protections. Director Jeff L. Lieberman expected to attend.

Centerpiece Documentary: Red Herring
Kit Vincent, 2023, Documentary, United Kingdom • West Coast Premiere

When 24-year-old director Kit Vincent receives a terminal diagnosis, his first instinct is to turn on his camera and embark on an emotional, spiritual and darkly humorous journey. Director Kit Vincent, participant Lawrence Vincent expected to attend. Recipient of a 2022 JFI Discretionary Grant. Kit Vincent is a 2022 JFI Filmmaker in Residence.

Centerpiece Narrative: My Neighbor Adolf
Leon Prudovsky, 2022, Narrative, Israel, Poland, Germany • Bay Area Premiere

Cranky and suspicious, a Holocaust survivor in South America, becomes convinced that his secretive German neighbor is Adolf Hitler and sets out to prove his case. Actor Udo Kier expected to attend.

East Bay Big Night: A Gaza Weekend
Basil Khalil, 2022, Narrative, United Kingdom, Palestine • California Premiere

In this hilarious, action-packed parody that lampoons disaster movies, a mysterious virus spreads throughout Israel. A wealthy British journalist and his Israeli girlfriend become desperate to escape the country.

Freedom of Expression Award: Lisa Edelstein
Lisa Edelstein expected to attend in San Francisco in conjunction with a screening of the short film Swipe NYC (Sue Zarco Kramer, 2022, Narrative, Short, United States). Director Sue Kramer also expected to attend.

Since 2005, the Jewish Film Institute has presented an artist with the Freedom of Expression Award to honor the unfettered imagination, which is a cornerstone of a free, just and open society. SFJFF43 presents actor and activist Lisa Edelstein with the 2023 Freedom of Expression Award. Appearing in guest and leading roles on popular television series including ER, Frasier, The West Wing, Ally McBeal, House, The Good Wife, Elementary, Scandal, Legends of Korra, and Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce, Edelstein is one of the most recognizable Jewish actresses today. From the beginning, Lisa Edelstein has intertwined acting, writing, producing and visual artwork with her passion for social activism. For over three decades, Edelstein has used her public platform as a fierce advocate for voting rights, workers’ rights, the environment, immigration reform and reproductive rights.

Next Wave Spotlight: I Like Movies
Chandler Levack, 2022, Narrative, Canada • Bay Area Premiere

It’s 2003, and socially inept 17-year-old Lawrence has just nailed his dream job at the local video store. Having already alienated those closest to him, he forges a new complicated friendship with his tough but tender hearted manager.

Take Action Spotlight: Plan C
Tracy Droz Tragos, 2023, Documentary, United States • Bay Area Premiere

Francine Coeytaux, co-director of the grassroots organization Plan C, organizes an extraordinary group of activists and medical professionals in the fight to expand nationwide access to the abortion pill regardless of the consequences. Director Tracy Droz Tragos expected to attend.

Episodic Spotlight: Madrasa
Guri Alfi, 2023, Narrative, Episodic, Israel • United States Premiere

From the pen of politically astute Palestinian Israeli writer Sayed Kashua (Arab Labor, The Writer) comes Madrasa, a fast-paced comic TV series set at the Peace School for Bilingual Education in Jerusalem.

Local Spotlight: The Secret Art of Human Flight
H.P. Mendoza, 2023, Narrative, United States • West Coast Premiere

In this heartwarming and captivating tale, a young Jewish widower seeks escape from grief by training with an eccentric stranger who claims his methods will allow the man to fly. Director H.P. Mendoza expected to attend.

Comedy Spotlight: The Catskills
Lex Gillespie, 2023, Documentary, United States • Sneak Preview (Fine Cut)

This humor-filled, nostalgic celebration of vacation resorts in the Borscht Belt paints a vibrant picture of 20th-century Jewish-American history. Director Lex Gillespie expected to attend.

JFI Supported Films

1341 Frames of Love and War
Ran Tal, 2022, Documentary, United Kingdom, Israel • California Premiere

Celebrated war photographer Micha Bar-Am shares his vast archive of 500,000 photos and his reflections on the psychological and personal toll of bearing witness to multiple wars. Director Ran Tal expected to attend. Recipient of a 2021 JFI Completion Grant and Winner of the 2021 Albert & Judith Goldberg Award.

I Like It Here
Ralph Arlyck, 2022, Documentary, United States • Bay Area Premiere

In this gratifying personal essay, acclaimed documentarian Ralph Arlyck shares his humorous and insightful personal reflections on the challenges of aging, and the pleasures of being alive. Director Ralph Arlyck expected to attend. Recipient of a 2022 JFI Completion Grant.

A Still Small Voice
Luke Lorentzen, 2023, Documentary, United States • Bay Area Premiere

This documentary that centers on an aspiring chaplain in a New York hospital is a meditation on faith, loss and professional sustainability that finds hope and meaning in seemingly hopeless situations. Winner of the 2023 Momentum Award from the Jewish Film Institute and Jewish Story Partners.

The Wild One
Tessa Louise Salomé, 2022, Documentary, France • California Premiere

Powered by his vivid recollections, legendary director of stage and film Jack Garfein reflects on how his tragic childhood informed his unique, driven and uncompromising vision as an artist. Recipient of a 2020 JFI Completion Grant and winner of the 2020 Albert & Judith Goldberg Award.

Additional Films

Food and Country
Laura Gabbert, 2023, Documentary, United States • California Premiere

At the height of the pandemic, renowned food critic Ruth Reichl shines a light on America’s broken food industry and the human toll behind the country’s ceaseless effort to create the world’s most abundant food supply. Director Laura Gabbert expected to attend.

Elan Golod, 2023, Documentary, United States • United States Premiere

For over nine decades, artist Nathan Hilu obsessively draws his experiences as an 18-year-old Jewish private tasked with guarding high-level German war criminals at Nuremberg. Director Elan Golod expected to attend.

Nelly & Nadine
Magnus Gertten, 2022, Documentary, Sweden

Sylvie Bianchi mines a treasure trove of photographs, 8mm film footage and detailed diaries to piece together her beloved grandmother’s decades-long lesbian love affair that began in the concentration camp at Ravensbrück. Director Magnus Gertten expected to attend.

The Prince of Egypt
Brenda Chapman, Steve Hickner, Simon Wells, 1998, Narrative, Animation, United States 25th Anniversary Screening

SFJFF invites audiences to rediscover this classic for its 25th anniversary. This animated adaptation of the Exodus story features an all-star voice cast, award-winning songs by Stephen Schwartz and score by Hans Zimmer.

Rabbi on the Block
Brad Rothschild, 2023, Documentary, United States • World Premiere

A Black rabbi combats racism, misogyny and gun violence by caring for her community on the South Side of Chicago in this inspiring portrait. Director Brad Rothschild, participant Tamar Manasseh expected to attend.

Laura Bialis, 2023, Documentary, United States

This breathtaking and exceptionally well-crafted documentary about Russian-Jewish photographer Roman Vishniac (1897–1990) captures his transformation from a free-spirited scientist in Berlin to one of the world’s greatest photographers. Director Laura Bialis expected to attend.

White Bird
Marc Forster, 2023, Narrative, United States • Sneak Preview

When famous artist Sara Blum (Helen Mirren) confronts her grandson’s bullying behavior, his unrepentant demeanor provokes her to recount her experience as a Jewish girl in an occupied French village during World War II.

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