Saturday, July 23, 2005

07.23.05 SFJFF: Opening Night and Shabbat Shalom

I'm getting to that point of almost euphoric anticipation that happens before a big screening. (This precedes the all night tossing and turning, worrying about everything that could go wrong). The excited feeling comes from the opening events that have taken place over the past couple of days. They're getting me all ramped up for the adventures to come.

The big opening event at any festival is, of course, opening night. The Castro Theatre was decked out in its finest, for the always overcrowded but high-spirited pre-party up in the theatre's mezzanine. Maybe it's just because it's the Jewish film festival, but this party always has the feeling of a Bar-Mitzvah to me....what with all the kisses, finger foods, and older women putting mini-brownies from the dessert tray into their purses "for later." Of course, I am right in there among the masses, fighting for bits of delicious foodstuffs--the carmelized brie was the winner for me this year.

The opening night film was "Go For Zucker!", a German-Jewish comedy by the adorable German director Dani Levy. I enjoyed the film--it was refreshing to see a comedy for once, when my typical fare consists of uber-serious documentaries or big-budget sci-fi special effects blowouts. I won't spend too much time on a synopsis, but basically it is about two German brothers who haven't spoken for 40 years. When their mother dies, her stiupulation for them to get her inheritance is that they must sit shiva together for 7 days and make up. Pretty basic stuff, except that one brother is a gambling, but somehow loveable, hedonist, and the other is an Orthodox Jew.

The most interesting part was hearing Dani Levy speak after the film. First of all, he was just fun to watch--he seemed to have the goofy neurosis of Woody Allen mixed with the energy and abandon of Roberto Benini. He said that he was shocked how well it had done in Germany (It won all sorts of German film awards, including Best Director). He said that Germans were starving for portraits of modern Jews, unassociated with the Shoah. I was surprised to hear that it is likely that residents in much of rural Germany don't even KNOW any Jewish people. I guess this shouldn't surprise me, but I just hadn't thought about it. I suppose in much of the rural U.S. the same could be true, but for very different reasons. At any rate, Dani talked about how the urban German comic sensibility was shaped by Jews in the entertainment business in the early 20's, much like in New York City. He theorized that that is one of the reasons why so many German gentiles can relate to his movie. I have really mixed feelings about the phenomenon--it's kind of uplifting and yet so fucked up at the same time.

The most EXCITING part was feeling the opening night energy in the Castro and realizing that, indeed, my dream of screening in the amazing place will be realized next week!

The following night (last night), I was lucky enough to attend the Filmmakers' Shabbat Dinner. It further excited me about the rest of the festival ahead because of the genuinely warm feelings all over the place. It was held at the gorgeous studios for PhiloTV, a post-production firm, but they managed to make it feel homey by having everyone in the entire joint introduce themselves and give their affiliations to the festival. More than one person called the festival their "favorite Jewish holiday". One woman, a festival board member, said that her father passed away one week ago and she was attending the festival as her memorial to him. Wow. There were a LOT of people in the room who had been involved with the festival for all--or at least most--of its 25 years. I felt really proud to chant the Shabbat blessings over the bread and wine with such an incredible crowd of filmmakers, former blacklistees, festival board/staff, and just plain film lovers.

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