SFJFF Spotlights: 112 Weddings/Quality Balls: The David Steinberg Story/Arlo & Julie/All There Is/Touchdown Israel

by Carrie Kahn on July 23, 2014

The 34th Annual San Francisco Jewish Film Festival (SFJFF) opens tomorrow, Thursday, July 24th, and runs until Sunday, August 10th. With 70 films from 18 countries and eight world premieres, the Festival has something for everyone. Below we spotlight a small sampling of the Fest’s offerings: three features and two documentaries. Find the full schedule, tickets, and more information at: http://sfjff.org

112 Weddings
(USA 2013, 92 min)

They’re happy now –  but what about in ten years?

Who among us hasn’t been to a wedding and thought – even for just a moment: “I wonder where this couple will be in five years?” Documentarian Doug Block apparently wondered the same thing. Having supplemented his filmmaking income as a wedding videographer, Block here interviews a few of the 112 couples whose weddings he shot five, ten, 15, even 20 years ago. The results are by turns uplifting, amusing, poignant, and wrenching, but always fascinating. By interviewing a broad range of diverse couples, Block lets us see the hopes, expectations, and realities of weddings – and, more importantly, of marriage and lifelong commitment. What happens when the party ends, and the couple is left facing issues like mental illness, financial difficulties, child rearing, or chronically ill children? “Happy weddings are a dime a dozen,” says a rabbi Block interviews; “happy marriages are much more rare.” The contrasting footage of youthful, joyous weddings and the present-day, older, more solemn couples is deeply moving and eye opening. Whether you’re married, divorced, contemplating marriage, or ardently against it, you’ll be riveted by this compelling documentary that examines the institution of marriage in a powerful and unique way. “Happily ever after is complicated,” one of the interviewees says. Indeed.

Screenings:
– Saturday, July 26th, 4:30pm, Castro Theater, SF
– Sunday, July 27th, 4:25pm, CinéArts Theater, Palo Alto
– Tuesday, August 5th, 6:15pm, California Theater, Berkeley

Tickets and trailer available here.

Quality Balls: The David Steinberg Story
(Canada 2013, 75 min)

David Steinberg jokes with Johnny Carson during one of his many appearances on The Tonight Show.

“David Steinberg has quality balls,” Jerry Seinfeld comments in Canadian director Barry Avrich’s terrific new documentary about the comedian, writer, and director David Steinberg. Seinfeld’s comment refers to Steinberg’s irreverent and cutting edge humor, which, when Steinberg was coming up in Chicago’s comedy scene in the 1960s, was considered shocking and profane. Raised in Winnipeg, Steinberg was a rabbi’s son who startled audiences with his fearless humor about previously off-limit topics like religion, politics, and current events (one of Steinberg’s appearances on the Smothers Brothers Show famously lead to its cancellation). Steinberg was able to move seamlessly from stand-up comedy into directing and writing, remaining relevant and viable today with his work in TV (Mad About You, Friends, Curb Your Enthusiasm) and film. Filled with reflections, stories, and laugh-out-loud jokes from Steinberg and his colleagues and friends, including Jerry Seinfeld, Larry David, and Jeff Garlin, Quality Balls is must-see viewing for anyone who both appreciates compelling biography and loves to laugh.

Screenings:
– Tuesday, July 29th, 7:00pm, CinéArts Theater, Palo Alto
– Friday, August 1st, 8:50pm, Castro Theater, SF

Tickets and trailer available here.

Arlo & Julie
(USA 2014, 76 min)

Julie (Ashley Spiller) and Arlo (Alex Dobrenko) are puzzled by a puzzle.

What would you do if you started receiving puzzle pieces anonymously in the mail every day for weeks? No doubt you’d be intrigued enough to put the puzzle together and try to figure out who was responsible. That’s exactly what millennial Austin couple Arlo (Alex Dobrenko) and Julie (Ashley Spiller) do in this lightweight but all together charming new film from Austin writer/director Steve Mims. As Arlo and Julie’s interest in the puzzle progresses from curiosity to obsession, the puzzle itself become a metaphor for the couple’s uncertainty about their own relationship. Mims gently pokes fun at Austin hipster culture (Arlo is a tech worker whose true passion is civil war history), but manages to keep his film from being too precious with bright performances and wry, smart humor. As an insufferable, self-absorbed squabbling couple, supporting players Hugo Zesati and Mallory Culbert are scene-stealers, and Dobrenko and Spiller capture Arlo and Julie’s insecurities with honesty and tenderness.

Screenings:
– Saturday, July 26th, 7:00pm, Castro Theater, SF
– Saturday, August 2nd, 8:55pm, California Theater, Berkeley

Tickets and trailer available here.

All There Is
(USA 2014, 86 min)

Malcolm (Jonathan Rosen) and Lily (Lola Kirke) wonder... is that all there is?

Malcolm (Jonathan Rosen) and Lily (Lola Kirke) wonder… is that all there is?

A work in progress, Aaron Fisher-Cohen’s debut feature has had two previous titles: Active Adults and Lake City. Keep your eye out for any of these titles in the future though, because you won’t want to miss this one later if you can’t catch it here. A drama about parallel relationships, the film contrasts the story of new college grads Malcolm (Jonathan Rosen, in his first role) and Lily (Lola Kirke) with Malcom’s grandparents Bart (Dominic Chianese, of Sopranos fame) and Miriam (Joanna Merlin), married sixty years and living in Lake City, an older-adult community in New Jersey. A wistful meditation on growing up, growing old, and the difficulties of finding and keeping love at any age, the film is beautifully shot, although a few animated sequences feel slightly misplaced. The film deserves wide distribution for Merlin’s riveting, emotionally layered performance alone, however; she’s a standout. And young Jonathan Rosen has a natural, quietly watchful, engaging presence reminiscent of the young Ryan Gosling; he’s one to watch, and I predict we’ll be seeing more of him after this breakout role.

Screenings:
– Sunday, July 27th, 9:30pm, Castro Theater, SF

Tickets available here.

Touchdown Israel
(USA/Israel 2014, 85 min)

An IFL player is ready to give it his all in Touchdown Israel.

An IFL player is ready to give it his all in Touchdown Israel.

If you weren’t aware there was an American-style football league in Israel, you’re not alone; Paul Hirschberger’s new documentary tries to correct that oversight by letting the world in on the action. Founded five years ago, the Israel Football League (IFL) has ten teams and over 500 volunteer players (every player still has to buy his own equipment) from seven Israeli cities, all vying for a chance to play in the Israel Bowl, the IFL’s version of the Super Bowl. Filled with richly diverse players – American expats, other foreign immigrants, and Israeli native Jews and Arabs alike – the IFL is an equalizing force in a divisive, explosive country. The film is at its most effective when the players talk about their experiences getting to know their teammates, many from cities and cultures they’ve only heard about disparagingly. The film’s best scene features three members of a Tel Aviv team – a Catholic/Buddhist Filipino immigrant, a devout Jew, and an Israeli Arab – talking about their preconceived ideas of each other, and about how being teammates has changed their perceptions and brought them new friends they never fathomed they’d have. That conversation is a poignant and heartening moment in a film that manages to balance entertaining, ESPN-style sports coverage with much weightier, thoughtful discussions.

Screenings:
– Saturday, July 26th, 1:45pm, CinéArts Theater, Palo Alto
– Sunday, July 27th, 11:30am, Castro Theater, SF
– Saturday, August 9th, 2:00pm, Grand Lake Theater, Oakland
– Sunday, August 10th, 1:45pm, Rafael Theater, San Rafael

Tickets and trailer available here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carrie Kahn

Moving from the arthouse to the multiplex with grace, ease, and only the occasional eye roll.

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