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Preview: 24th Annual San Diego Jewish Film Festival

February 7, 2014 12:40 a.m.

KPBS film critic Beth Accomando previews the 24th Annual Jewish Film Festival.

Related Story: Preview: San Diego Jewish Film Festival

Transcript:

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

ANCHOR HOST: The 24th Annual San Diego Jewish Film Festival kicked off last night to a full house. KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando gives us a preview of what’s to come.

TAG: The San Diego Jewish Film Festival continues through February 16 at multiple venues. Visit Beth’s Cinema Junkie blog at K-P-B-S-dot-ORG for more details.

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Movies can be magical and nothing beats watching them at a festival where the audience becomes a community.

CLIP: Here we are in the dark watching a movie. I always loved movies and now I am a movie.

The San Diego Jewish Film Festival has been inviting filmgoers to be part of that community for nearly a quarter century, and to be part of a dialogue about the impact films can have on how we perceive the world.

CRAIG PRATER: Certainly this year we were able to secure films that open up dialogue or add to the discussions that follow the film, and I think that is what is so valuable to the film festival, allowing that different points of view, different points of discussion that stimulate enjoyment of the film.

Craig Prater is the new festival director. He’s proud of how the festival has established itself in San Diego.

CRAIG PRATER: As we speak right now, our box office sales are double from what they were last year. The only disappointing news I would say would be we may be having some people turned away because our box office sales are filling houses right now so that’s a nice problem to have.

This year the festival showcases 60 shorts, features, and documentaries, including this fascinating documentary about Romanian-born French filmmaker Bernard Natan. Natan began his career in the 1920s but has been mostly forgotten because he was not accepted by the club of French filmmakers at the time.

CLIP Then the club manages to get rid of the man. He was too good, too talented, and this could not be.

The documentary “Natan” tackles a subject that frequently comes up at the festival –who writes history, what gets remember, and how one can rescue things on the verge of being forgotten. Similar themes are raised in “Commie Camp,” when filmmaker Katie Halper explores right-wing charges about Camp Kinderland having a Communist history of indoctrinating young campers with extremist ideology.

CLIP Uh-oh. Guess who else went to that camp? Me. That footage is 75 years old and the communist world collapsed 25 years ago but still does an association with Camp Kinerland make you an extremist?

Halper uses humor and interviews with campers to challenge the accusations, and to let us judge for ourselves what the camp is all about. Humor also appears in some unlikely places like “Arab Labor,” a comedy series about an Israeli Arab journalist in search of his identity. Festival director Prater says a light tone about serious topics may cause controversy but that’s okay.

CRAIG PRATER: Yes a comedy is how it’s positioned in its genre but I find that we’re going to experience some different discussions, sometimes things that are positioned, or the intent is to be just comedy in nature, might not be funny to some people and I think maybe that’s going to open up some interesting discussion.

Opening up discussion is key to the festival’s mission. That’s why there are Q&A’s with filmmakers and panel discussions following many screenings. Prater is especially looking forward to the panel for “The Congress.”

CRAIG PRATER: It’s Robin Wright, Harvey Keitel, Jon Hamm’s new film directed by Ari Folman, who did Waltz of Bashir, that won so many awards that year, but it’s 70% animation, 30% live action… Mr. Folman’s been, referred to with this as a creative genius expanding beyond any measurement, and another critic might say, has he lost his mind.

The film raises questions about film moving into the next century, and who has ownership of an actor’s image in this age of computer technology.

CLIP We want to scan you, all of you, we want to own this thing we call Robin Wright.

The film is deliberately provocative and visually stunning as it explores where art and technology may take us, and what moral questions that might raise. Prater says he wants people who come to the festival to be “stimulated to come and see other films.” Any of these titles are guaranteed to do that.

Beth Accomando, KPBS News.