San Diego Jewish Film Festival returns

For almost two decades the San Diego Jewish Film Festival has brought films to San Diego audiences that entertain and enlighten. After narrowing down the hundreds of submissions from around the world, the final 50 are contemporary Jewish-themed films that range from dramas to comedies and include many based on true stories.

The 19th annual San Diego Jewish Film Festival, sponsored by the Mizel Family Foundation and presented by the San Diego Center for Jewish Culture, takes place Feb. 4 through 15 at various theaters around the county. Along with the short-subject, documentary and feature films, the festival also features special events, guest artists and theme programs for all ages.

The process to select the each year's films begins immediately after each festival ends. Sandra Lynn Kraus, the festival's producer, said the process, headed by this year's festival chairman, Francine Ginsburg, begins with a selection committee of 12 who looks for certain elements in the selections.

"The choices are tougher every year because the films get better," Kraus said. "We know our audience very well. We look for Jewish content but also try to make the audience stretch their boundaries and see something they wouldn't ordinarily see. We like a variety, and we don't show a lot of holocaust films but need a few because they are important. We love comedy, Jewish historical films, documentaries and something with a newer format."

The festival has become an important cultural event both for San Diegans and other film fans.

"It's our goal to make everyone love and understand these films whether they are Jewish or not," Kraus said. "Ultimately that's what we all wish for, that unification of mutual understanding and respect."

Kraus refrained from naming any personal favorite films in the festival, but said:

"Some do excite me. 'Blessed is the Match,' the story of Hannah Senesh, is one. 'The Last Train' is a different Holocaust film than we've seen before. 'Where Are You Going, Moshe' is fun and quirky. I love art and there are two films about art: 'Arthur Szyk' and 'I Witness.' And the one that's so prevalent in what's going on in the world and in Israel is 'The Monster Among Us.' "

A handful of the films that will be presented:

"Beau Jest" (Feb. 7, 8 and 9):

A Chicago teacher is in love with a great guy with one fatal flaw: he's not Jewish.

"The Beetle" (Feb. 5 and 6):

Features a woman pregnant with their first child who insists her husband scrap his beloved VW Beetle for a safe family car.

"Blessed is the Match: The Life & Death of Hannah Senesh" (Feb. 8 and 15):

A documentary of the woman known as the Joan of Arc of Israel who was captured, tortured and executed in her military mission to save Jews during the Holocaust.

"Constantine's Sword" (Feb. 10):

Oscar-nominated director Oren Jacoby turns the camera on author and former Catholic priest James Carroll as he embarks on a journey to confront his past and a legacy of religious violence.

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