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Musical Discoveries at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival

July 12, 2016

If you’re not familiar with the name of the late cultural giant Isaiah Sheffer (1935-2012), now is your chance to catch up with the amazing, heartwarming, exemplary story of a multitalented man who helped make arts available to everyone.

As you watch Art and Heart: the World of Isaiah Sheffer at the 2016 San Francisco Jewish Film Festival about the creator of Symphony Space and NPR’s Selective Shorts, a scene at the beginning shows how Sheffer — a private individual without government or foundation support — organized the use of an old movie theater in Manhattan for a free 12-hour concert of Bach’s music.

The event concluded with an unrehearsed community singing of choral portions of the Mass in B Minor. The movie theater became Symphony Space and Sheffer went on to a long, distinguished career of selfless giving.

This documentary and several others about music and the arts are part of the 36th annual festival, which features 67 films from 15 countries, including no fewer than 52 premieres. Screenings, July 21 through Aug. 7, will be in San Francisco, Palo Alto, Berkeley, Oakland, and San Rafael theaters.

“This year’s festival honors depth and complexity over formula and promotes an evolving definition of what constitutes Jewish film and media,” says Jewish Film Institute Executive Director Lexi Leban. “We are proud to introduce new voices and emerging talent while honoring the contributions of iconic artists among us.”

Art and Heart will be screened in CineArt Palo Alto on July 27, in the Castro Theater in San Francisco on July 28, and in Berkeley’s Roda Theater on July 29.

Some of the other festival films dealing with music:

Joe’s Violin, Kahane Cooperman’s moving documentary about Joe Feingold, a 91-year-old Polish Holocaust survivor who donated his violin of 70 years to a local instrument drive, changing the life of a 12-year-old schoolgirl from the nation’s poorest congressional district - and inspiring more instrument donations.

Making Morning Star (shown with Art and Heart), about Ricky Ian Gordon working on an opera for a decade, “still unfinished,” he says ruefully at the beginning of the documentary, but not giving up - and finally the world premiere came last year.

What Cheer, following the actor Richard Kind through a bizarre attack of deafening sound, produced by a 19 piece brass band from Providence, Rhode Island. “Their sound is an aggressive mix of Bollywood, The Balkans, New Orleans, Samba and Hip-Hop, played with the intensity of metal.”

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