This year, the film festival will showcase 51 films, ranging from feature-length and short films to documentaries and animation through Sunday, Feb. 21 at five cinemas in San Diego and North County. The festival opened Feb. 10.
Festival producer Sandra Kraus described the series as “the best cinema and independent films that you’ll find in San Diego.”
Film topics range from a Jewish man who discovers he has a different biological father who happens to be a pig farmer to Debbie Ford’s self-help film on learning about the shadow that haunts and blesses one’s life.
Two decades ago, the Jewish Community Center (JCC) launched the festival with four films at the Sherwood Auditorium at the Museum of Contemporary Art in La Jolla.
“I think films are sexy. And I’ve always thought that films appeal to a mass audience,” festival founder Joyce Axelrod said.
An elderly woman who rode her bicycle to the event became the festival’s first underwriter when she decided to dedicate a film to her husband. The unnamed benefactress met Axelrod at a coffee shop five times to make small payments until she had funded the film.
“We asked them to stand at the next festival,” Axelrod said. “Here are two lovely elderly people who are smiling from ear to ear and I just felt like I wanted to weep. I was just so touched by the humbled beginnings that we had.”
Festival producer Sandra Kraus gave The Peninsula Beacon the scoop in a question-and-answer format:
What is the mission of the Jewish Film Festival?
“Our goal has always been to bring the Jewish culture to the San Diego community and to present it in such a way that it builds bridges and creates new relationships, and to show people that Jewish film can touch everyone’s lives. It’s not just if you’re Jewish.”
How long have you been the producer?
This is my fourth year as the producer of the festival, and I’ve been involved in the festival for seven years now.
The San Diego Jewish Film Festival has grown from three films and 100 viewers at its premiere 20 years ago to 51 films and thousands of viewers today. How?
“There’s no doubt that it has everything to do with the support of the San Diego community and the people who have co-founded and chaired and worked on the film festival committee for the past 20 years. We have over 65 people who sit on the committee and more than 100 volunteers who help run the festival. Our founding chair, Joyce Axelrod, is still extremely involved with the festival. We’ve only had three festival chairs to date. The people who sit on the committee have stood by it for all these years so the consistency and support is there.”
What are the criteria for selecting films?
“There needs to be some kind of Jewish content or implication in the film. Sometimes it’s obvious that it’s a film that takes place about the Holocaust or Israeli issues. Sometimes it’s not as obvious. The film might be about a family living in New York City and the implications of a daughter marrying a non-Jewish man. Any films from Israel, we’ll consider. If the filmmaker is Jewish but the film has no Jewish content, it’s not eligible for the festival.”
What does the future hold?
“We are reaching out into the North County coastal area. We have a new venue in La Costa. We’re always trying to cross-promote within other non-Jewish organizations when we can, which is almost on every film. With the LGBT community, we have two films: ‘Chicks in White Satin’ and ‘Off and Running.’ For Latin films, there’s ‘La Camara Oscura’ [based in Buenos Aires]. We’re also working with the Asian film festival.”
Baby & Me Movie: Moms and dads should pack their stroller and bring their babies to a screening of “Adam’s Wall” on Monday, Feb. 15 at 11 a.m. “Adam’s Wall” takes place in an ethnically diverse neighborhood in Montreal where a Jewish girl and Lebanese boy fall in love but must face the familial, generational and political barriers that separate them. The film screens at the David & Dorothea Garfield Theatre at 4126 Executive Drive. Tickets cost $7.50.
Teen Screen Night: Teenagers 18 years and under are invited to a free pizza dinner and the screening of “Eli & Ben” on the festival’s closing night, Sunday, Feb. 21. Eli’s father, Ben, is accused of taking bribes and is arrested. Eli believes his father is innocent but begins to discover the truth when questioned by the police.
Tickets for most films cost $11.25 for Jewish CC members and $13.25 for nonmembers. Opening and closing films cost $13 to $15. Deja View Fridays cost $6 to $7. For more information, call (858) 362-1348 or visit www.lfjcc.org/sdjff.