In honor of the festival’s 25th anniversary, four favorite films from years past will be shown again. Sixteen of the films included in this year’s lineup are from Israel.
Screening 38 more films than last year’s festival, the 2015 installment is expected to draw an additional 3,000 to 6,000 attendees and will employ twice as many screens at ArcLight Cinemas and Edwards San Marcos Stadium 18 as last year. Other participating theaters include Clairemont Reading Cinemas Town Square 14, Carlsbad Village Theatre and David & Dorothea Garfield Theatre at the community center.
“I maintain that the film selection is such an impressive lineup that anyone and everyone — Jewish or not — will be interested,” said Craig Prater, festival director. “For instance, everyone would enjoy ‘Run Boy Run,’ a true-life drama about a young boy who was orphaned and is always on the run from his enemies. It has a great happy ending.”
“The increasing popularity of Jewish film festivals worldwide,” festival founder Joyce Axelrod added in an email, “has made one fact extremely clear: Jews crave a meaningful connection to their roots. But festival films now have such diversity of themes that they attract an audience beyond the Jewish community.”
The festival, Axelrod said, was the brainchild of Lynette Allen, the community center's first director of cultural arts. “I joined her as a volunteer to promote a film series... Two years later, we presented our first annual San Diego Jewish Film Festival, with a selection of four films at Sherwood Hall in La Jolla. We were buoyed by the community's response to our festival. It was well attended; it was lively; it was like a big family event.
Acclaimed Austrian-American actor Theodore Bikel will make a special appearance for an advanced screening and discussion of his film “Theodore Bikel: In the Shoes of Sholom Aleichem” on Wednesday, Feb. 4. The public can view the documentary Saturday, Feb. 7 at Carlsbad Village Theatre and Sunday, Feb. 15 at Clairemont Reading.
Aleichem, a leading Jewish author whose stories on Tevye the Dairyman inspired the musical “Fiddler on the Roof,” was known for the precise descriptions of Eastern European Jewish life in the early 19th century.
On opening night, Thursday, Feb. 5, Clairemont Reading will feature the French comedy “Serial (Bad) Weddings,” about the tribulations of a traditional Catholic family with four daughters, three of whom marry men outside their faith. At last, the fourth daughter marries a nice Catholic boy – but there’s a twist.
Photographer, screenwriter and native San Diegan Ari Seth Cohen will be a guest speaker during the screening of “Advanced Style” on Friday, Feb. 6 at the Garfield Theatre. Cohen is known for his photos capturing the elegant street fashions of women in their golden years in New York. Spotlighting the festival that afternoon, a live fashion show featuring models from the local community and fashion designers from Israel will be presented by Pomegranate La Jolla.
Another festival highlight is Indian comedy “Shree 420,” directed by and starring Randhir Kapoor, which will be shown at the Garfield Theatre on Sunday, Feb. 8.
“A little-known secret about early Indian cinema is that many of the Bollywood actresses were actually Jewish,” said Prater. “Several generations of the Kapoor family have been involved with filmmaking in India, and this year Randhir Kapoor will be available to Skype with us about his film ‘Shree 420,’ followed by a live Bollywood dance performance.”
The Joyce Forum will bring 45 short films to ArcLight Cinemas and Garfield Theatre beginning at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 9. Due to the popularity of last year’s three programs, this juried competition will feature 10 different programs, each including four to seven short films. Winners will be announced in each category the following morning during a presentation at the community center (includes free breakfast, limited to the first 300 people), where the winning films will be screened. The forum is named for festival founder Joyce Axelrod, who created the short film program.
“The Joyce Forum,” Axelrod said, “started about 10 years ago. I decided that I wanted to have a showcase for young filmmakers to expose their talents to established filmmakers, artists and industry peers. This idea evolved into a full day of short subject films from emerging and now-seasoned filmmakers.”
Especially for teenagers, the free Teen Screen program, on Tuesday, Feb. 10, at Clairemont Reading, will feature “Havana Curveball,” about a 14-year-old boy who wants to send baseballs to Havana, where his Jewish grandfather found refuge during the Holocaust.
Closing out the festival on Sunday, Feb. 15, at Clairemont Reading is “Little White Lie,” a documentary based on director Lacey Schwartz’s own life experience as she goes off to college and questions her cultural and religious identity.
The festival is sponsored by the Leichtag Foundation in Encinitas to support educational activities and programs inspired by traditional Jewish customs. Tickets to most films cost $13 to 16. Multi-film passes, senior and student discounts and group rate discounts are available. For more information, visit sdjff.com.