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Midday Movies: 23rd Annual San Diego Jewish Film Festival

Shadows by Marvin Newman, a photo from the Photo League featured in the documentary "Ordinary Miracles: The Photo League's New York."
Marvin Newman
Shadows by Marvin Newman, a photo from the Photo League featured in the documentary "Ordinary Miracles: The Photo League's New York."

Focus On New York

Midday Movies: 23rd Annual San Diego Jewish Film Festival
GUESTS: Saundra Saperstein , Chair of the San Diego Jewish Film FestivalBeth Accomando, KPBS Arts Reporter and the author of the blog Cinema JunkieNina Rosenblum, Filmmaker, "Ordinary Miracles: The Photo League's New York"

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition. I am Maureen Cavanaugh. New York City has the second largest Jewish population of any city in the world. As you might imagine, the town is bursting with great Jewish food, brilliant Jewish artists and some quirky Jewish politicians. So it is fitting that one focus of this year's San Diego Jewish film Festival should be films about New York. We will get a preview of those films and other highlights of this year's festival from my guests. Saundra Saperstein is the new chair of the San Diego Jewish film Festival and Saundra, welcome to the program. SAUNDRA SAPERSTEIN: Thank you. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And Beth Accomando is here of course KPBS arts reporter. Welcome back BETH ACCOMANDO: Thank you. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Saundra, as I said highlighting New York seems to make sense but tell me why you decided to make New York a focus for the festival? SAUNDRA SAPERSTEIN: It actually occurred organically. We view a few hundred films for the festival and what we discovered as we were viewing these films is that there were so many diverse films that dealt with New York it seems like a natural programmatic element. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I see and I'm going to ask you more specifically about some of those films in just a moment but I want to talk about you for a moment. This is your first year with the San Diego Jewish film Festival but you have a background in working with a number of big film festivals, isn't that right? SAUNDRA SAPERSTEIN: It is. I started working at the Sundance film Festival in 1981. And became their media director the next year and I did that for 18 years. And then I was a consultant for the Maui film Festival for nine years so I had the snow in the sun. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: How does experience like that. The selections you make this year for the San Diego Jewish film Festival? SAUNDRA SAPERSTEIN: I don't know that it really guides how I select films or how other people select films on the group but certainly my experience with these two festivals and particularly with Sundance gives me a good perspective in terms of how this festival is developed and where it is going. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Beth, you have been going to the Jewish film Festival since it began program projecting16 mm films in an auditorium? BETH ACCOMANDO: What I liked about it from the very beginning is that it's not only an emphasis on showing great films showing films and engaging the audience not just in watching them by discussing and talking about them with filmmakers and even just talking about it amongst themselves and so it really has this community since to it so that you feel like you are watching films in this community and how you want to have a discussion about them. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I see, that kind of courage and being able to talk about a movie after you've seen it which is so exciting especially with the filmmakers themselves. Soldier what is the balance that you have between fictional films and documentaries in the festival do you like to have them pretty equally distributed or one more than the other? SAUNDRA SAPERSTEIN: I think it depends on what films are the strongest and often we find that there are more documentary films that are of the quality that we are hoping to show. The dramatic films. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That's interesting. We have on the line with us one of the people whose films, one of the documentarians who's film is going to be featured the San Diego Jewish film Festival Nina Rosenblum, Nina welcome to the program. NINA ROSENBLUM: It is a pleasure to be with you MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Nina codirected a so-called ordinary make ordinary miracles the photo leaks New York let's first of all here just a little clip from the documentary introduces us to the photo league. NEW SPEAKER: In these turbulent here's the photo link was born when a handful of young New Yorkers dedicated themselves to a bold idea. Banding together to achieve social change to photography. The photo league was at once a camera club, a photography school, and exhibition space and a lecture Hall. Over a period of 15 years. It would train some 1500 students in the exacting art of photography. The photo league's credo held that the camera was more than a means of recording reality. It was a device with potential to change the world. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That is a clip from the documentary ordinary miracles, the photo league's New York. It is would be playing as part of the San Diego Jewish film Festival and on the line with me is the codirector of the documentary, Nina Rosenblum. And Nina, your father Walter Rosenblum was involved in the photo league. Was he the reason he wanted to make the documentary? NINA ROSENBLUM: First of all I want to thank you and thanks Saundra Saperstein and the festival for including us and yes my dad was a major inspiration it left him dearly and work with them as a young person as he was photographing I would go around with him but it was also because of the level of the people who originally were really was central in my film about it, and we spent many many years created the ground rules for all of documentary to follow. So, we who are working in the medium at the time when, as Saundra said earlier, why are there are so many good documentaries and why? I think the reason is we are the children of the photo league, and the time kind of statements and issues that the photo league looked at in their time have inspired the documentaries today, especially the ones we do. And to me that was one of the real reasons to put it back on the map because in a certain way it had been eclipsed, knowledge about it had been sort of not forgotten, hidden because of the legacy of the blacklist and I think the time was right now to bring it back up. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Nina Rosenblum thank you for joining our conversation I really appreciate it. NINA ROSENBLUM: Thank you MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Back to guest in studio Saundra Saperstein and therefore, no what are some of the other films can you give us a smattering of other films we will see at the festival that have a New York theme? SAUNDRA SAPERSTEIN: There are a number of films and they are very diverse inSubject matter, Koch about Mayor Koch, battle for Brooklyn which deals with politics, Joe, dealing with his life in the development of the public theater, art Spiegelman, who created Maus, and there is Manhattan, which gives us glimpses of New York, and Bert Stern. All of these in addition to ordinary miracles, have New York subjects or based in New York. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So that gives you a nice range of films with the New York theme. Any other films, any favorite films of your Saundra, this year, any gems that might get lost in the festival that people should seek out? SAUNDRA SAPERSTEIN: One of my favorites is wherever we go. And I like this film very much. I think it was very well executed. I like it in terms of subject matter because it deals with Arab-Israeli issues. But, in a very interesting light, he personally. It deals with gender issues, cultural Mars, cultural diversity again, and I think it will draw everybody in the season. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: The name again? SAUNDRA SAPERSTEIN: Wherever we go. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: If you are talking specifically about what you like about the festival aside from the great films that are shown is aside from the forms and films that accompany them and the joys form is a favorite of yours, why is that? BETH ACCOMANDO: Well it focuses on young new emerging filmmakers so you get a fresh perspective and a lot of energy from the films because these are, some of them are very new filmmakers, some have made a lot of films but they have very unique perspective on things. This year there is a trio at least of animated films I'm really looking forward to so it is a nice way to get introduced a young talent are emerging talent and to me that is always really exciting. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Know and also the Jewish film Festival is not shying away from controversy. I'm thinking about the documentary about Roman Polanski, Roman Polanski, a film and more. You know as a reminder, Polanski pleaded guilty to unlawful sex with a minor back in the 70s but fled the US before sentencing. Saundra, what did you want to include this documentary? SAUNDRA SAPERSTEIN: Because he is a very well director well known director both nationally and internationally. It is an opportunity to look at him in a different light than other documentaries about him. The person who is doing the interview is a close friend and I think as a result of that, and it is someone he has worked with for years, I think that Polansky more comfortable and more candid in his comments. And there is information in this documentary that I think a lot of people are not aware of and it also covers every aspect of his life, the hardships that he went through, his background. But also some of the joys of his life. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I believe that you are introducing this film, Beth, what do you think of it? BETH ACCOMANDO: I think it's a very interesting documentary there have been a couple documentaries about him that thing is a saunter mentioned is a friend of his who is interviewing him so he feels very relaxed and he opens up. I think people need to kind of understand some of his background, two. I mean, he had a really troubled life. He was in the Warsaw ghetto and he lived through very difficult times. His wife Sharon Tate was murdered by the Manson family. A lot of this comes out to his films. Think what is good about this film is that it ties is related to his films into a certain way so you can see how he has channeled a lot of what he's gone through into his movies. And a matter what you think of him, I think everybody would have to agree that he is an incredible filmmaker. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm going to ask you both under and Beth what other films in the festival do you think provide some good opportunities for interaction with audiences and panels and discussions, Saundra? SAUNDRA SAPERSTEIN: I would say a day after piece. The woman who will be at the festival at her daughter killed in Israel and her reaction to that is the basis for this film. Which is that she is trying to create an understanding. And an attitude that is similar to the truth and reconciliation that took place in South Africa. And you see her both as a mother and as someone passionate for social change. And her ability to draw other people into the dialogue is quite amazing. Both in terms of the people she interviews and also the audience reaction to that. I saw the film originally in San Francisco and what ensued following the screening was a very lively discussion. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That sounds fascinating, Beth? BETH ACCOMANDO: I haven't seen the film yet which but it is melting away which deals with the transgender some there will be a guest that has a little bit of a surprise performance I believe I'm not sure if I can say exactly what it is, but I think that this will be an interesting film to go to and engage in some discussion. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Engage in a panel discussion afterward? BETH ACCOMANDO: Not so much panel but there'll be a guest introducing and coming out after the film and being available for discussion. It should be fun, this one. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You left a little mystery. BETH ACCOMANDO: I think it's better that way. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: The home base for the festival is threading screws to 14 are there other places people can find the films, Saundra? SAUNDRA SAPERSTEIN: The Jewish community Center in La Jolla, the Lawrence family, also in San Marcos, the Edwards San Marcos and the other end of the Dove library. All of this information is available online so that people can check out films and what they are about and places and times. And if they want an actual film guide, they can obtain one at the Lawrence family Jewish community center. MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: The 23rd annual Jewish film Festival runs from February 7 to the 17th. I've been speaking with Saundra Saperstein with the San Diego Jewish film Festival and arts reporter Beth Accomando. Thank you both very much. BOTH: Thank you.

New York City has the second largest Jewish population of any city in the world and is bursting with great Jewish food, brilliant Jewish artists, and some quirky Jewish politicians. So, it's fitting that one focus of this year's San Diego Jewish Film Festival should be films about New York. The festival kicks off on February 7.

Nina Rosenblum and Dan Allentuck have worked together for more than a decade. Their latest documentary "Ordinary Miracles: The Photo League's New York" tells the story of the rise and politically motivated fall of the Photo League, (1936–1951) which served as the center of the documentary movement in American photography at a time when the camera was held to be, in James Agee’s words, “the central instrument of our time.” Rosenblum's father, Walter Rosenblum, was a member of the Photo League.

"Ordinary Miracles" is just one of a group of films focusing on the Big Apple. New York has a larger than life quality and so do some of its inhabitants. The festival highlights documentaries about Joseph Papp, Ed Koch, Garth Drabinsky, and Bert Stern.


Returning to the festival is the Joyce Forum sidebar featuring short films from new, young, and just plain talented filmmakers.

Beth Accomando will be introducing a new documentary about the controversial Roman Polanski on February 9. "Roman Polanski: A Film Memoir" is an interview between Polanski and his friend Andrew Braunsberg.

The 23rd Annual San Diego Jewish Film Festival runs February 7 through 17 with the home base being the Reading Cinemas Town Square 14. For a complete schedule and list of venues please visit the festival's website.