Monday, August 2, 2010

Jason goes to Jewfest North--Sunday, August 1

Incidentally, did you know besides Jewfest North and Jewfest South, there's actually a Jewfest East. I tell you, the Bay Area isn't just full of film festivals, it's full of Jewish Film Festivals.

Of course, this is the oldest one, the original celebrating it's 30th birthday. And I missed the whole San Francisco week because of Holehead, but now I'm down in Palo Alto to catch at least a bit of it. 4 movies Sunday:

First up, a documentary about some truly inspiring people, MY SO-CALLED ENEMY. Young Palestinian and Israeli women attend a leadership conference in the U.S, and for 10 days spend time with the "other side" for the first time ever. It's not always pleasant--some are there because they want to see the other point of view, but some are there to air their grievances. And things just get more tense when a rocket attack on Israel is on the news while they're there. But afterwards, they're all friends of one sort or another, and the truly remarkable thing is how many of them keep in touch long afterwards. Much of this is shown through text messages, and director Lisa Gossels followed them for several years afterwards (or at least, that's the impression I got, I forget the exact time scale). Easily the most moving scene is an Israeli and Palestinian friend, visiting the containment wall and next to graffiti decrying the Jewish villains (they're on the Palestinian side), they write out Gandhi's quote, "Be the change you want to see in the world." Beautiful.

The documentaries kept coming with MY PERESTROIKA, a look at personal stories of the fall of the Soviet Union. History teachers tell stories of how they grew up patriotic, learned a bit more as they grew older, and now can teach with a candor that would've gotten them fired before. On the other hand, people remember happy childhoods giving way to horrible bread lines under Gorbachev. One guy is now a successful menswear merchant, one woman is a single mother who never realized growing up how poor she was. And this is the problem with the movie, it gives so much deference to individual stories that there's barely a point of view. I'm left not knowing if the fall of the Soviet Union was a good or bad thing (I mean, I know what I believe about it, I don't know what the filmmakers and subjects think about it). And it's not even a particularly interesting ambivalence, it's just a collection of life stories that aren't tied together into much of an overall story.

And documentary day continued still, with a pair of odd company movies, starting with THE WORST COMPANY IN THE WORLD. Director Regev Contes follows his father Carol around as he, his brother, and his best friend try to run an insurance company. And they do run it--into the ground. A hilarious look at old fat men napping and eating marshmallow pies instead of actually signing up customers. If they weren't losing so much money, they'd just be three funny old guys laughing with each other. And really, they're much better at that than anything remotely related to business.

And another charming people lose at business story is told in BAABAA THE SHEEP SETS OUT TO BRING LOVE TO THE WORLD. Israeli craft artist Itamar (who grew up on a farm and was deeply moved by a night nursing a wounded sheep) makes adorably goofy sponge sheep and sells them at the bazaar. His sheep are very popular, and soon they're taking off, a company forms around investors hoping to take them global, he's mass-producing Baa Baa sheep and other merchandise in a Chinese factory, and everyone loves them. He's a celebrity on Israeli TV, and things are really looking up. Problem is, as enthusiastic as everyone speaks, no one at the major toy expos actually buys them for distribution. Soon there's a question of whether to even keep the company together, and Itamar is clearly over his head among businessmen who look at the bottom line instead of the cute sheep's soul. At times he's just painfully naive, but ultimately he's charming and sincere enough that you root for him even though you know how it will end.

And finally, not a documentary. Instead, ANITA is an Argentinian drama about a Ana Feldman, a Jewish girl with Down Syndrome living in Buenos Aires. She lives with her mother and her brother comes to visit frequently. She's helping out in her mom's store when her mom goes out to pick up a check from the local Jewish center. Sadly, a terrorist bomb rips through the neighborhood while she's gone, and soon Ana is on her own. She's ushered onto a bus to the hospital, but once she's checked and released she has no clue where to go. And so over several days, while her brother loses hope of finding her, she meets a varied cross-section of locals and touches their lives. A charming movie with an excellent performance by Alejandra Manzo as Anita (she, of course, has Down Syndrome herself and gives a wonderfully nuanced performance).

And that was last Sunday at Jewfest (North)

Total Running Time: 388 minutes
My Total Minutes: 192,201
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