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San Diego’s Jewish Film Festival Rebrands But Mission Stays The Same

Festival continues through Feb. 17

Photo credit: Neue Road Movies

"It Must Schwing: The Blue Note Story" looks to Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff who founded the legendary jazz label. The film opens this years San Diego International Jewish Film Festival.

GUESTS:

Christina Fink, SDIJFF festival chair

Beth Accomando, KPBS arts reporter

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Transcript

Suggested SDIJFF viewing

"The 90-Minute War"

"Anthrax"

"Carl Laemmle"

"The Cousin"

"Hitler Versus Picasso and Others"

"The Impure"

"Inside Mossad"

"It Must Schwing"

"The No. 5 War"

"Rescue Bus 300"

"The Twinning Reaction"

"Wajib"

"Who Will Write Our History"

This year the San Diego Jewish Film Festival adds International to its title to emphasize its global perspective. The festival continues through Feb. 17 at multiple venues.

The re-branded San Diego International Jewish Film Festival (SDIJFF) kicks off its 29th year tonight at the Reading Clairemont Towne Square Theaters.

SDIJFF has always been international in flavor but now it adds the word to its name to make sure everyone realizes that fact. I have watched the festival grow since its first year in a gymnasium projecting 16mm films and it has always sought films from around the globe, even bravely adding films from Palestine as a means of providing alternate points of view and encouraging discussion.

This year once again the festival showcases dozens of features, documentaries, and shorts from around the world. The festival continues to pursue the stated goals of its sponsoring organization: "The mission of the San Diego Center for Jewish Culture is to offer an array of entertaining and enriching cultural, educational and artistic programming which brings the community together to connect with Jewish heritage, identity, experiences and values. CJC is committed to providing a welcoming and inclusive environment for San Diego's entire community." The film festival is a key means of achieving this.

Festival chair Christina Fink said opening night features the documentary "It Must Schwing" about two Jewish émigrés and friends Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff who founded the legendary Blue Note jazz label.

"If anything it showcases a story of two men who came to the country with nothing and were able to excel, follow an interest, follow a love and built this label out of sheer determination but that’s what history does, it allows us to look back and learn and extrapolate their stories to make them something that inspires us today," Fink said.

This year's centerpiece film is “Who Will Write Our History,” produced by Nancy Spielberg and Roberta Grossman. Grossman is one of the Film Festival’s special guests and will be receiving its Directors Award. The film tells the story of a secret band of journalists, scholars and community leaders in the Warsaw Ghetto who vowed to defeat Nazi lies and propaganda with pen and paper.

The festival closes on Feb. 17 with “Good Thoughts, Good Words, Good Deeds: Conductor Zubin Mehta”, a documentary about the music director of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.

For a more unconventional night of film check out the festival's Brews & Views event and San Diego Connections films, an evening of five short films held at Project Bar & Grill in Hillcrest.

The festival excels at providing context for its films by bringing in filmmakers, guest speakers, community leaders and others to introduce the films and sometimes lead post-film Q&A's.

Fink noted that some people may have the misconception that the festival focuses on just Holocaust films and she said that is not true because the festival highlights a broad range of films across multiple genres, themes, and countries. She pointed out that if a film does deal with the Holocaust it has to reveal some "new nugget of information."

One fascinating film that covers familiar issues with some new insights and clever cinematic storytelling is "Hitler Versus Picasso and Others." Narrated by Italian actor Toni Servillo ("Il Divo"), the film explores how the Nazis stole art and how it was later rediscovered.

Another documentary worth checking out especially if you love movies is "Carl Laemmle," about the founder of Universal Studios. You might be familiar with his pioneering role in cinema but you might be surprised to discover the amazing amount of activism he engaged in and how many people he helped bring to America to escape Hitler's Germany.

Documentaries are a mainstay of the festival but this year there are a number of films that give a spin to the documentary format. In "Rescue Bus 300" real survivors of a 1984 hostage crisis in Tel Aviv are interviewed and their story is interwoven with cinema verite style re-enactments of events. Then "The 90-Minute War" serves up a mockumentary about a soccer game that is set up in order to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The film uses humor to serve up some insights and social commentary about a conflict that has gone on for decades without reaching any resolution.

One final documentary I want to mention is "The Twinning Reaction," a film that looks into how several families from New York had their lives impacted by the discovery that the Jewish adoption agency they used was covertly separating and studying twins. The film is a perfect compliment to last year's documentary "Three Identical Strangers," which looked to a set of triplets separated by this adoption agency.

SDIJFF continues at multiple venues through Feb. 17. You can find the complete schedule and theater locations online.

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