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Music of Cinegogue Summer Days, COVID-19 Edition of the SF Jewish Film Festival

July 14, 2020

The San Francisco Jewish Film Festival has combined “cinema” and “synagogue” in the portmanteau of Cinegogue, which stands for “we cannot meet in the Castro Theatre for the 40th year, so let’s stream movies and use drive-ins.”

Postponed by COVID-19, the anniversary season of the world’s oldest and largest festival of Jewish-themed films will hold forth this week as Cinegogue Summer Days.

“Since its inception in 1980, the festival has welcomed audiences to celebrate the power of Jewish film each summer,” said Jewish Film Institute Executive Director Lexi Leban. “JFI could not imagine a summer without the festival, so we created Cinegogue Summer Days to provide our loyal SFJFF audiences with a unique opportunity to join together in community and conversation.

“The showcase gives a space to celebrate creativity and innovation and deliberate over life’s important questions while we are in this transformational moment in our history.”

The series opens on July 16, on what would have been the SFJFF opening night, with special drive-in screenings under the stars.

Films screened online will remain available through the four days of streaming, but only the initial showing online, in the list below, is followed by a live Q&A.

Among the films streamed and shown in Bay Area drive-ins, July 16–19, is a promising lineup of music films, including On Broadway, a chronicle of Jews in musicals; Michael Tilson Thomas: Where Now Is, a feature about and a conversation with MTT; and Broken Barriers (Khavah), a restored silent film based on the work of Sholem Aleichem and scored here by Sascha Jacobsen.

The opening night ceremony on July 16 at 8:30 p.m. will be held at the West Wind Drive-In Concord, screening On Broadway. Same day, same time the film will also be shown at Capitol Drive-In San Jose. Online streaming is:

Online screening of Michael Tilson Thomas: Where Now Is will be at 2:30 p.m. July 18, followed by a conversation between MTT and Peter L. Stein.

Broken Barriers (Khavah) will stream at 6 p.m., July 18, with a live score.

Of On Broadway, which is not streamed and can only be seen at the drive-ins, The Hollywood Reporter wrote: “Enhanced by a wealth of archival footage and clips from notable productions, the theatrical history lesson flows smoothly and proves consistently entertaining.”

The documentary follows how, from composers to lyricists and producers to actors, Jews have played a pivotal role in the creation of many of Broadway’s biggest hits, Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim just two among them.

In the film, “legends of the stage tell the inside story of Broadway and how it came back from the brink thanks to innovative work, a new attention to inclusion, and a sometimes uneasy balance between art and commerce.”

The film about MTT goes back 50 years, when he stepped in mid-concert for the ailing Boston Symphony conductor William Steinberg. He went on to stretch the boundaries of classical music — winner of 11 Grammy Awards, Tilson Thomas appears on more than 120 recordings, received the National Medal of Arts from President Barack Obama, and served as the music director for the San Francisco Symphony for 25 years.

Born into a creative Jewish family, Tilson Thomas is the third generation of his family to pursue an artistic career. His grandparents, Boris and Bessie Thomashefsky, were founding members of Yiddish theater in America. Shifting between performance and the personal, Michael Tilson Thomas: Where Now Is offers an intimate look at an exceptional artist.

And then Khavah. Long vanished from the motion picture screen, this silent film from 1919 is one of the most exciting finds the National Center for Jewish Film has ever come across. Originally released as Khavah and later renamed Broken Barriers, this newly restored film is the first American screen adaptation of the work of legendary Yiddish writer Sholem Aleichem (his character Tevye was the basis for Fiddler on the Roof).

The film focuses not on Tevye the milkman but on his daughter Khavah, who falls in love with the gentile boy Fedka, sending reverberations through her family and community. JFI will present a special one-time-only online screening of the film, complemented by Sascha Jacobsen’s live accompaniment.

Among other programs streamed in Cinegogue Summer Days:

JFI Filmmaker in Residence Showcase, July 17, 12 p.m. “JFI residents are in various stages of completion on their projects whose work promotes the exploration and understanding of Jewish identity and culture. This year’s filmmakers, Nora Mariana, Theo Rigby, Eva Ilona Brzeski, Yoav Potash, and Charene Zalis, will present clips and trailers of their works in progress … in a conversation moderated by programmer Joshua Moore.”

IRMI, July 17, 3 p.m. “Irmi Selver was born in 1906, in Chemnitz, Germany, where she grew up, married, and began her own family. Nothing prepared her for the upheavals and tragedy that were in store for her, or for the many times she would have to start her life over on unfamiliar ground.” The film uses Irmi’s own memoir, read by the actress Hanna Schygulla, with a score by Todd Boekelheide.

Shiva Baby, July 17, 6 p.m. Emma Seligman’s debut with a story about the relationship between a young woman and her “sugar daddy.”

They Ain’t Ready For Me, July 18, noon. “The story of Tamar Manasseh, an African American rabbinical student who is leading the fight against senseless killings on the south side of Chicago.”

Those Who Remained, July 19, 11:30 a.m. Directed by Barnabás Tóth, this 2019 Hungarian film tells the story of a doctor in Budapest, who is a survivor of the camps. Shown at the last Telluride Festival, the film was shortlisted for Best International Feature for the 2020 Academy Awards.

“Unruly Women: Jewish Female Characters on TV,” July 19, 2 p.m. In the company of The Plot Against America, Unorthodox, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Transparent, Girls, Broad City, and comedy specials by Amy Schumer, Jenny Slate, Tiffany Haddish, and Sarah Silverman, the “boom” of female Jewish characters is explored in the documentary. Also present: memories of Molly Picon, Rhoda, Gilda Radner, Joan Rivers, and so on.

Closing Night Awards Ceremony, July 19, 6:30 p.m. “The newly established JFI Completion Grants Program provides [finishing funds] to emerging and established filmmakers for original stories that promote thoughtful consideration of Jewish history, life, culture, and identity …. In this online broadcast, the Jewish Film Institute will announce the recipients of the program’s inaugural round of funding, as well as the winners of the Short Documentary Award and Film Movement Award.”

Janos Gereben appreciates news tips, corrections, and words of encouragement at [email protected].