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Arts & Culture

San Diego International Jewish Film Festival Launches Online

The documentary "Tomorrow, When the Apricots Bloom" looks to the first Egyptian animated films made by the Jewish Frenkel Brothers.
SDIJFF
The documentary "Tomorrow, When the Apricots Bloom" looks to the first Egyptian animated films made by the Jewish Frenkel Brothers.

Most films will be available on demand through Feb. 21

Recommended viewing

"Tomorrow, When the Apricots Bloom"

"Glass Negatives"

"Holy Silence"

"Syndrome K"

"Walter Winchell: The Power of Gossip"

"Adventures of a Mathematician"

"Mystery of the Black Book"

"Shared Legacies: The African-American Jewish Civil Rights Alliance"

SD International Jewish Film Festival Kicks Off 31st Year Online

Last year the San Diego International Jewish Film Festival, or SDIJFF, was able to hold an in-person event just before the pandemic hit. But for its 31st year, the festival is moving online.

In a scene from one film, a man puts on white gloves and carefully opens grimy, decades-old film cans to discover nitrate film prints and even original camera negative. Breathlessly, the French film archivist unspools frames of the first Egyptian animated film.

San Diego International Jewish Film Festival Launches Online
Listen to this story by Beth Accomando.

"So who knew people on this planet actually had jobs with white gloves," exclaimed Christina Fink, SDIJFF and film programming chair. "They take us into their world and it's a world that I don't know or walk in or even have friends that are involved with. And for those reasons, I love documentaries like this where I learn something and I'm transported for an hour or so."

"Tomorrow, When the Apricots Bloom" transports us to 1930s Egypt to introduce us to the Jewish Frenkel Brothers who were known as the “Egyptian Disneys.” The documentary takes you on a magical journey of discovery as we learn about the lives and creative projects of the brothers.

And if you want to make a double feature of white-gloved archivists then check out "Glass Negatives." This documentary looks to another discovery from the past as a collection of 2,700 glass plate negatives are found in a Polish attic. The photographs were taken between 1914 and 1939. A young woman tries to unravel the mysteries behind these images of everyday people.

She tells us, "I have to ask some questions. What is this collection? Did anyone ever research it? Do we know who the photographer is? Do we know who these people are? So many questions and when I started asking them I realized many had no answers."

But the film does slowly uncover some answers and provide a glimpse of Polish Jews from one village before their lives were destroyed in World War II.

These films represent just two of the 36 features and documentaries showcased at this year’s SDIJFF. Festival goers can buy single tickets rather than a festival pass with most films available to watch over the next 11 days.

"Twenty-five out of the 36 [films] are available on demand throughout the entire festival," Fink explained. "So you will not have to time an exact watch time to sit down, and that is a huge, huge deal to let the viewer control the viewing time."

Attendees can also create their own programming blocks, like focusing on World War II documentaries. They can even narrow the them further with a double bill of "Holy Silence," about the Vatican’s controversial response to anti-semitism during World War II, with "Syndrome K" about Italian doctors who invented a fake disease in order to hide Jews in their hospital.

"'Syndrome K' is a very complex film. Historians and scholars, are still uncovering a lot of World War II history. You'd think we would know it all by this time, but that is not the case. And in fact, that makes the deep dive into any piece of Jewish history or Israeli history or World War II history even a little bit more challenging because there is so much material on the table."

There are also documentaries that explore more recent history in ways that similarly focus on aspects people may not be familiar with.

"Shared Legacies: The African-American Jewish Civil Rights Alliance" looks at the close connections between Jews and African-Americans from the 1909 founding of the NAACP through the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. The opening night feature is one of the films that is only available for a 48-hour window.

Director Shari Rogers said, "What surprised me was the deep, deep friendships that existed between the folks that really worked together. It was it wasn't just showing up for meetings. I was hoping that I could somehow spark the emotion and the feeling in people's hearts, and that the folks could understand that we have this shared legacy, that the Jewish people, going all the way back to the Exodus story where Moses was sort of the the the original social protester against injustice, the social justice warrior that Dr. King understood, that the exodus was a story that that could empower the Black community, that this was a Biblical movement."

Thursday night’s screening of "Shared Legacies" will be followed by a live discussion featuring Rogers and Clarence B. Jones, former advisor, draft speech writer, and friend of Martin Luther King Jr. Many films will have discussions online or filmmakers’ introductions to provide additional exclusive content for fest goers.

If you are new to virtual film festing then SDIJFF provides a handy How To Fest Guide.