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Cinema of Identity

Jewish Filmfest
Love in the Time of Hate: A scene from the wartime romance "Tears of Stone," directed by Hilmar Oddsson.

The Jewish Film Festival explores the multifaceted reality of the Jewish experience past and present

By Richard von Busack

THE QUESTION "What is a Jew?" is asked by a number of filmmakers in the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, appearing locally Aug. 3­7 at Stanford University's Cubberley Auditorium. The 16 films--centered on the theme "Looking at Ourselves"--favor the documentary approach, as Jewish filmmakers worldwide mull over where they've come from and where they're going. Regional identity sometimes overrides the religious concept of the self. The characters in these diverse films are Jews of Mao's China, of 1700s Portugal and of modern Trinidad. More than a few of the films concentrate on the Holocaust, a trauma that literally imprinted a Jewish identity from without--or, as a friend put it, he always knew he was Jewish because some Gentile was always reminding him that he was.

When I Was 14: A Survivor Remembers (Aug. 7; 4pm; free) is the story of Gloria Hollander Lyon, who not only endured Auschwitz but six other concentration camps as well. The German documentary Oskar and Jack (Aug. 4; 3:30pm) tells of identical twins split up and raised Jewish and Gentile. Tears of Stone (Aug. 6; 6:30pm) and Lovers in Minsk: The Jewess and the Captain (Aug. 6; 9pm) are both romances between Gentiles and Jews conducted at a time of Nazi persecution.

The Emigrant (Aug. 5; 6pm) presents a new version of the story of the Biblical patriarch Joseph; director Youssef Chahine's film was banned in Egypt for fear that it would excite the hostility of Muslim fundamentalists, who consider the Judeo-Christian world's prophet Joseph the same person as the sacrosanct Muslim prophet Yusef. As relief from that particular tangle of thorns is Shtick, Shmaltz and Shtereotypes (Aug. 5; 9pm), a compilation of silent and early-talkies shorts designed to celebrate early Jewish film comedians and to expose some stereotypes. The films star such performers as Danny Kaye, Eddie Cantor and the legendary Yiddish tragedian Maurice Schwartz. The selections include the film version of the once-popular gag record "Cohen on the Telephone," and an opus titled "Tyrone Shapiro, the Bronx Cavallerro."

A Tickle in the Heart (Aug. 7; 6pm) is a German documentary on the Epstein Brothers, klezmer musicians who, in their 80s, found themselves with the mixed blessing of coming back into style after all these years. Finally, looking forward, Saint Clara, the opening film of the festival (Aug. 3; 9:30pm), tells the story of a psychic whose newly found powers sow discord in her small industrial town in Israel of the near future.

The Jewish Film Festival runs Aug. 3­7 at Cubberely Auditorium, Stanford. Tickets are $7.50. (BASS; 415/621-0564;)

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