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Preview: 23rd Annual Jewish Film Festival

Festival Kicks Off with ‘Under African Skies’

Above: Joseph Papp in archive footage from the documentary "Joe Papp in Five Acts," which screens at the San Diego Jewish Film Festival.

Aired 2/7/13 on KPBS News.

KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando previews the 23rd annual San Diego Jewish Film Festival.

Transcript

The 23rd Annual San Diego Jewish Film Festival kicks off tonight with "Under African Skies." Here are some films you might want to seek out. The Festival runs through February 17.

The San Diego Jewish Film Festival turns its focus on New York and some of the people that make the city a vibrant center for art and

This year the San Diego Jewish Film Festival might want to add the subtitle: New York Edition. The festival has a focus on the Big Apple with a group of films that are by New York filmmakers, about the city itself, or about some of its famous natives. Festival chair Saundra Sapperstein says the program theme grew organically out of the film selection process: "We view a few hundred films for the festival and what we discovered as we were viewing these films that there were so many diverse films dealing with New York it seemed like a natural programmatic element."

Some of the best of these films focus on larger than life citizens like Joseph Papp, who had the crazy idea of bringing free Shakespeare to Central Park. Papp’s energy and enthusiasm fuel the documentary "Joe Papp in Five Acts." The film uses archive footage of the late theater icon as well as interviews with people he worked with and some who were transformed by his revolutionary sense of theater.

Credit: First Run Features

Marilyn Monroe in one of Bert Stern's famous photos of the actress. The photographer is the focus of the documentary "Bert Stern: Original Madman."

Another fascinating native New Yorker may not be a familiar name but you’ve likely seen his work. Bert Stern’s photos of Marilyn Monroe wearing nothing but a string of beads or his Smirnoff ads that made vodka popular in America have been seen and admired by millions over the decades. The reputed bad boy of photography reveals doubts about having a lens turned on him in the documentary "Bert Stern Original Madman."

Stern approaches photography as an act of seduction, which may explain why so many of his best and most famous images are of women. The film, by Shannah Laumeister, sits Stern down for a series of intimate and informal discussions in which he reveals a surprising amount of detail about his life and work. The film also dazzles us with hundreds of his images from his Madison Avenue ad days to his heyday shooting Hollywood celebrities from Monroe to Audrey Hepburn to Lindsay Lohan.

If you choose to travel outside New York, there are plenty of other films at the Jewish Film Festival worthy of attention. If short films are to your taste there’s the wonderful Joyce Forum that highlights fresh new talent as well as seasoned filmmakers. Among this year’s shorts are exquisitely animated "55 Socks" and "Seven Minutes in the Warsaw Ghetto."

The Warsaw Ghetto is also part of the discussion in a new documentary about filmmaker Roman Polanski. Polanski gained notoriety in the U.S. for fleeing the country before receiving sentencing in regards to a 1977 guilty plea for unlawful sex with a minor. But people may be less familiar with the details about his childhood in the Warsaw and Krakow ghettos. Polanski’s personal life has made him a controversial figure and distracted people from his exceptional artistry. The documentary "Roman Polanski: A Film Memoir" has the director interviewed by his friend and colleague Andrew Braunsberg. Polanski’s cinematic triumphs and his personal turmoil prove fascinating material for this documentary.

Documentaries are often the core of the festival’s programming but there are impressive narrative films as well such as "Wherever You Go" and "Melting Away." But whatever your taste in film, you’re bound to find something worthy at The San Diego Jewish Film Festival. And what makes the experience even better is that you can also partake in post film discussions, often with the filmmakers.

The San Diego Jewish Film Festival continues tonight through February 17th with its home base at the Reading Clairemont Town Square Theaters.

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