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[whitespace] Jewish Film Festival encompasses films from Iowa to Shanghai

By Richard von Busack

NINETEEN YEARS OLD and mature already: the Jewish Film Festival is one of the more broad-ranging of local film fests, especially because of the international scope of the Jewish experience. This year's leg of the Bay Area festival (July 25-29), includes films from Iowa to Shanghai, from India to Bulgaria. Especially recommended is Pleasures of Urban Decay (July 27, 6:30pm). Ben Katchor is a weekly-paper cartoonist responsible for comic strips under various titles, particularly Cardboard Valise and Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer. Katchor's favorite subject is lower Manhattan in decline. He draws the shabby, dull-brick wholesale offices crowned with water towers. It's Willy Loman country, but Katchor invigorates his fantasy New York with humor and an amateur archeologist's fascination. Director Sam Ball records in film the vanishing city Katchor's been celebrating. Pleasures of Urban Decay is part of An Evening With Ben Katchor," an event that includes a slide show hosted by the artist.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Mograbi (July 29, 6:15pm) is another autobiographical documentary from a man best described as the Michael Moore of Israel. In this opus, Mograbi is assigned to make a documentary about the 50th anniversary of Israel--while coincidentally taking a job to document the evictions of Palestinians. Meanwhile, Mograbi himself faces the loss of his own home.

To escape the Third Reich, some 20,000 European Jews found a cramped, temporary home in Shanghai. As Ernest Huppner, one of the interviewees in the documentary The Part of Last Resort puts it, "People ask, Why was it so difficult to leave Germany? It was not. It was the free world that did not give us a place." In The Port of Last Resort (July 28, 6:30pm), directors Joan Grossman and Paul Rosdy interview elderly émigrés, who remember Shanghai with a mixture of affection and distaste. The city was the most cosmopolitan in the world, with refugees from all corners of Eurasia; it supported both a resilient cultural scene and a notorious night-life. But Shanghai was also perilous, rife with disease, overcrowding and inflation. When war broke out in 1941 between the U.S. and Japan, the Japanese ordered the building of a Jewish ghetto, which kept the refugees walled up until the end of the war. It is an interesting work but earnest and quiet, and you wish some Chinese interviewees had been included. Music by John Zorn.

Some of the other noteworthy features: After the End of the World (1999), about the reunion of two childhood sweethearts in Bulgaria today (July 25, 5:30pm); Yidl in the Middle: Growing Up Jewish in Iowa, a memoir by filmmaker Marline Booth (July 25, 12:30pm) and Jews and Buddhism (July 26, 6:15pm), a documentary about a summit meeting of Jewish and Buddhist scholars.

The Jewish Film Festival plays July 25-29 at the Park Theater in Menlo Park. Tickets are $7.50 at the door and $7 in advance for general admission/$6 at the door and $5 in advance for students, seniors and disabled. For details, check www.sfjff.org or call at 415/552-FEST.

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From the July 22-28, 1999 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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