by Gary Meyer
Jewish celebrations and cuisine go together. The San Francisco Jewish Film Festival wouldn’t be a proper cinematic meal without food films on its menu.
Of course, EatDrinkFilms will be there to co-present three tasty big screen treats.
Dough opens the 35th Festival on Thursday, July 23 at the Castro with additional showings in Berkeley, San Rafael and Palo Alto over the following 18 days.
A widowed third-generation kosher baker finds himself in a bind when his assistant quits to work for the neighboring supermarket whose megalomaniacal owner plans to add a kosher food section. Nat (Jonathan Pryce) is growing bitter as he ages, and now is at a loss as to where he will find someone he can train. When his cleaning lady suggests her teenage son, Nat reluctantly agrees. Ayyash (Jerome Holder) and his mother have struggled to survive since they emigrated from Darfur to England, hoping that his father will join them soon. The money they make is not sufficient to cover the bills, and when a rainstorm brings the roof down on their room, Nat offers them a place in his house. There is a culture clash brought to a head when Nat, finishing his evening prayers, sees Ayyash on his knees praying to Allah. Surprised there is a Muslim in his home, he faces the reality that their rituals are similar, and slowly he and Ayyash come to understand and respect each other, inspiring the young man to learn his new craft well.
But Ayyash wants to make more money, and he agrees to sell marijuana under the counter at the bakery for an aggressive drug lord. Nat doesn’t understand why business is picking up, especially with so many young people seemingly coming in for the wonderful-looking pastries and breads. But he is happy about it, and as his mood improves he takes an interest in a widow (Pauline Collins) who has been pursing him.
When a bag of cannabis accidentally falls into the challah mix, things are bound to change. Business soars as the infused baked goods take on a new-found popularity – because they taste good and make unsuspecting people feel good while a young hip crowd knows exactly what they are getting. The supermarket mogul isn’t happy. The drug lord loses control. And it looks like things are turning bad.
The outcome is fairly predictable and there are some credibility lapses, but the audience will be having such a good time that it doesn’t really matter. The performances are excellent, the laughs come often and important lessons are learned.
San Francisco is home to the oldest Jewish film festival in the world, which set the standard for dozens of film events around the globe. Many were (and are) inspired by the fine work done by the original directors, Deborah Kaufman and Janis Plotkin, and those who’ve followed, including Peter Stein, Nancy Fishman, and now Lexi Leban and Jay Rosenblatt. In those early years, so many people asked how they could create a similar festival that a handbook was written and widely distributed, to help others operate and program their own Jewish film fests. The clear message was to find a balance of movies and conversations that would make the program thought-provoking, relevant and fun.
This year’s festival is packed with 55 feature-length films and 15 shorts. They range from dramas to romances to comedies, with documentaries making up two-thirds of the selection. The festival directors explain that the Next Wave program is “a new section featuring stories and perspectives that signal the next evolutionary step in the history of independent, Jewish-themed filmmaking.”
Next week, EDF’s EAT MY SHORTS column will showcase some favorite shorts from past years.
Everything you want to know about the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival can be found here.
Read Emily S. Mendel’s preview of six features at the SFJFF elsewhere in this edition of EatDrinkFilms.