Last February, the San Diego Jewish International Film Festival celebrated its 30th anniversary, bringing thousands of people together across San Diego. Over the three decades since its inception, the festival greatly grew and changed, but one constant each and every year was that people congregated together at theatres across San Diego to watch films in a communal setting. Now in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, that can no longer be done safely. So, does that mean there will be no 31st consecutive year?
Fortunately, the answer is not only will the 31st anniversary occur, but it will include a full slate of films over the planned duration of ten days, and has the potential to bring in the largest number of people ever by employing technology that could not ever have been imagined back when the first film festival began in the JCC gym with a rented projector.
Ryan Isaac, the JCC’s Cultural Arts Director, explains, “Back in March, we were just coming off the buzz of a very successful 30th anniversary when we realized that COVID was a threat to the next festival, but we were hopeful that quarantining would be short-lived and normal life would be back soon enough. And, while we were being optimistic, we also were contingency planning. We were really lucky to have completed our festival just a few weeks before quarantining began and thus had nearly a year to plan for this new world, where other film festivals were really scrambling. Leveraging our relationships with other festivals who were able to pivot to online festivals with varying success, we learned so much that we now feel comfortable about being able to offer an experience that our patrons will appreciate. We knew the key was to make it easy, convenient, and still provide the kind of quality our filmgoers have come to expect.
Chris Fink, San Diego International Jewish Film Festival chair added that it was critical that the platform would allow us to meet our top priority: bringing the community together. “I have long said that community building starts in line. This year, my new motto is community starts online.” We have all worked so hard not only to bring an incredible lineup of films but also to include as much interactivity as possible to really make it a meaningful communal experience. For example, we chose a technology platform that allows us to continue key elements of our festival such as audience voting and the opportunity for Q & A with filmmakers. And beyond that, we continue to look for opportunities for our community to share the experience.”
Though the festival events will be toned down from year’s past, with no meet and greets or other receptions surrounding a film screening, the caliber of film selections is as great as ever.
The JCC and the Film Festival have been working hard to make sure the return to an in-person experience is as safe as possible. To that end, proof of vaccination is required to enter the David and Dorothea Garfield Theatre at the JCC, which has also recently been upgraded with a new air filtration system. As an additional safety measure, masks are required for all patrons (over the age of two) while indoors at the LFJCC.
This year’s lineup includes30 feature films and three TV series, to be screened Thursday, Feb. 9 through Sunday, Feb. 20, 2022.
“The most exciting news is that we had a huge number of films to choose from for this year’s festival,” Christina Fink, SDIJFF Chair said. “[The selection committee] had over 200 films to select from, and we have curated the very best to build this year’s festival.”
Fink went on to say that she is incredibly proud of the work of the eight film fest committee members, whose hard work and dedication went into the collection of films to be showcased this year.
“All of the films are of the highest quality … there really is something for everyone.”
During the underwriter preview night (February 9) as an exclusive benefit to Film Festival underwriters, The Conductor, a documentary tells the tale of internationally-renowned conductor Marin Alsop, the first woman to serve as music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra, and the Vienna Radio Symphony Orchestra.
“It is a lovely personal story with beautiful music, about a really wonderful individual, whom I think our underwriters will resonate with,” Fink said.
The festival opens to the general public on Thursday, February 10 with Greener Pastures, a comedy from Israel. Nominated for 12 Israeli Academy Awards including Best Film, Best Director, Best Screenplay, and Best Lead Actor, you won’t want to miss this movie.
“It is a just a good chuckle,” Fink said. “Today, everyone is looking for a laugh, and I can’t tell you how many times people [ask us to] show more comedies, so we are really lucky to have gotten this film.”
Other festival highlights include The New Jew, a television series featuring an Israeli actor and comedian (Guri Alfi), who travels across the United States trying to understand the American concept of what it is to be to be Jewish in the US, and how diverse the definition of that is.
“This is the first time we’ve been able to show a TV series at the festival,” Fink said. “We’ve always been challenged with how to do that, because if you see the first episode of a great series, you don’t want to stop watching. But the online platform we adopted last year has allowed us to bring three TV series’ to our audience.”
Recurring themes for the festival include travel, history, drama, Israel, religion, and other cultural offerings. A Holocaust film, Plan A is a film about a revenge plan in Germany from camp survivors during WWII. Wet Dog is a drama based on a book, which is based on a true story about a teen that immigrates to Berlin, and “all of the rough edges that come with a teen at a new high school in a new place,” Fink said.
The festival’s Centerpiece film is Persian Lessons, the latest film from director Vadim Perelman (House of Sand and Fog) Persian Lessons follows Gilles, a Nazi concentration camp inmate who avoids execution by swearing he is Persian, rather than Jewish. The film follows Gilles as he is instructed to teach Farsi to the camp commandant, who dreams of opening a restaurant in Iran after the war.
“I think we’ve done with this year’s festival is really nice, nicely balanced and very diverse,” Fink said.
The San Diego International Jewish Film Festival runs February 9 through February 20. To view film synopses, showing times, and ticketing information, visit lfjcc.org.