Noe Valley Voice July-August 2005

Jewish Film Fest Highlights McCarthy Era

By David O'Grady

The San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, the first and largest festival of Jewish filmmaking in the nation, is celebrating its 25th year with nearly 50 films showing from July 21 to Aug. 8. The festival kicks off its first week at the Castro Theatre, offering a range of films, panel discussions, and family programming.

"The long-standing success of the festival comes from our continuing fearless commitment to exploring all aspects of Jewish identity, from celebrating our history to confronting difficult issues," says Nancy Fishman, the festival's program director and co-curator. "These films keep us on our toes."

This year's festival, featuring a retrospective of the McCarthy Era titled "Jews and the Hollywood Blacklist," is no exception. The retrospective includes four films by blacklisted Jewish screenwriters, including The Front (1976), a film about the struggles of persecuted writers to get their scripts into production. The Front plays at the Castro Theatre on July 24, and is followed by a panel discussion moderated by McCarthy Era scholar Paul Buhle of Brown University. Other panelists include Walter Bernstein, blacklisted writer of The Front; blacklisted screenwriter Norma Barzman; and Dan Bessie, son of Alvah Bessie, a member of the Hollywood 10--screenwriters ostracized for refusing to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee.

"Six of the Hollywood 10 were Jewish," says Fishman, who got the inspiration for featuring blacklisted Jewish screenwriters at a book reading given by Barzman, author of The Red and the Blacklist: A Memoir of a Hollywood Insider. "I've been thinking about the blacklist era in light of what's happening in the U.S. since September 11," Fishman adds. "There are a lot of similarities to what is happening right now. In our blanket attempt to protect our culture, we're not doing a good job of protecting ourselves or our constitutional rights. It's important that we go back and celebrate the work of Jewish screenwriters from that time."

The festival this year also includes 16 films made in Israel, where documentary and new feature films are on the rise.

In addition, the lobby of the Castro Theatre will house a video installation by Dutch artist Erik van Loon commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Death March from Auschwitz, where as many as 20,000 people may have died as the Germans retreated from advancing Russian forces. Van Loon, camera mounted to his body, filmed the same 40-mile route through Poland that Jewish prisoners were forced to walk. His haunting 11-hour film, "A Victim Perspective," will be on continuous view during the festival.

In the there's-always-a-local-angle department: Twentieth Street resident Jay Rosenblatt will be honored with one of the festival's inaugural "Freedom of Expression" awards, for filmmakers "who celebrate the passionate storytelling...and courageous spirit of independent Jewish cinema." His award and others will be presented at a festival party on July 19, 7:30 to 11 p.m., at Club NV, 525 Howard Street. Rosenblatt will also be showing two of his films at the Castro: Phantom Limb (July 27, 5:30 p.m.), a 28-minute piece about the death of his little brother; and I Like It a Lot (July 28, 3:30 p.m.), a four-minute look at what Rosenblatt's now 4-year-old daughter can do with a chocolate ice cream cone and a white shirt.

For ticket information on all these events, contact the box office at 925-275-9490 or visit the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival at