The Sturgeon Queens
The Sturgeon Queens, a documentary by Julie Cohen about four generations of the family that founded Russ and Daughters on the Lower East Side, screens at ‘Berkeley Big Night’ on Aug. 2 as part of the 34th San Francisco Jewish Film Festival. Photo: The Sturgeon Queens

The 34th San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, the first and still the largest of its kind, returns to the Bay Area July 24-August 10 with 67 offerings from 17 countries, as well as festivities, special discussion programs and international guests in Berkeley, as well as in San Francisco, Palo Alto and San Rafael. Tickets and passes are now on sale.

Berkeley is well-represented in this year’s festival, with four films by Berkeley filmmakers and a “Berkeley Big Night” event at the Berkeley Repertory Theater.

This year, the “Berkeley Big Night” will be a screening of Julie Cohen’s The Sturgeon Queens on Sat. Aug. 2. The film follows four generations of the Jewish immigrant family that founded Russ and Daughters, a Lower East Side lox and herring emporium that survives and thrives. Produced to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the store, this documentary features an extensive interview with two of the original daughters, now 100 and 92 years old, and interviews with prominent enthusiasts of the store, including Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, actress Maggie Gyllenhaal, Chef Mario Batali, New Yorker writer Calvin Trillin, and 60 Minutes correspondent Morley Safer.

Director Julie Cohen will be in attendance for the “Berkeley Big Night” screening, as well as the Sunday, Aug. 3 screening at the Castro Theater in San Francisco. Immediately following the Berkeley screening, festival attendees are invited to a post-film reception catered by Bistro Liaison in the lobby and courtyard of Berkeley Rep.

Susan Sontag At Mills Hotel NEW YORK - DECEMBER 2:  Writer Susan Sontag attends a symposium on sex at the Mills Hotel  in Greenwich Village on December 2, 1962 in New York, New York. (Photo by Fred W. McDarrah/Getty Images)
Susan Sontag At Mills Hotel on Dec. 2, 1962. Photo: Fred W. McDarrah/Getty Images/Regarding Susan Sontag

A new documentary by Berkeley resident Nancy Kates, Regarding Susan Sontag, reflects the boldness of Sontag’s work, and the cultural importance of her thought, through extraordinary archival footage and still photographs, riveting interviews with Sontag’s friends and colleagues, and a rich tapestry of artifacts from popular culture. Regarding Susan Sontag will screen Sunday Aug. 3 at the California Theater in Berkeley; Monday, July 28 at the CineArts in Palo Alto; and Saturday, Aug. 2 at the Castro Theater in San Francisco. Director Nancy Kates will be in attendance for all screenings.

Berkeley resident Abby Ginzberg presents her latest film, Soft Vengeance: Albie Sachs and the New South Africa, a look at the South African Supreme Court Justice, writer, art lover and freedom fighter Albie Sachs during the lead-up to the overthrow of the apartheid regime in South Africa. Soft Vengeance screens Sunday, Aug. 10 at the Grand Lake Theater in Oakland; Sunday, July 27 at the Castro Theater in San Francisco; and Monday, July 28 at the CineArts in Palo Alto. Director Abby Ginzberg will be in attendance for the San Francisco screening.

Another Berkeley resident, Judith Montell, will premiere her latest film, In The Image, a co-directorial effort with Emmy Scharlatt. The film profiles the Camera Project from Israeli-based human rights watchdog group B’Tselem. The group provides Palestinians in the Occupied Territories with video cameras to document alleged human rights violations and provide evidence to the public and to Israeli authorities. In The Image screens on Sunday, Aug. 3 at the California Theater in Berkeley, and Wednesday, July 30 at the Castro Theater in San Francisco. Co-directors Judith Montell and Emmy Scharlatt will attend both screenings.

The documentary short, Bulletproof Stockings, from Berkeley resident Sarah Berkovich, follows Perl and Dalia, members of a Chassidic rock band that only plays for women, as they bridge the gap between keeping their faith and following their dreams.

Boger and Zaal in a still from "Facing Fear." Photo courtesy of Jason Cohen.
Boger and Zaal in a still from Facing Fear. Photo courtesy Jason Cohen.

The Academy Award nominated documentary short, Facing Fear, from Berkeley resident Jason Cohen, tells the story of Matthew Boger, who while living on the streets in LA, was savagely beaten by a group of neo-Nazi skinheads. He eventually meets his former attacker, Tim Zaal and the two begin the journey of forgiveness and healing. (Read the Berkeleyside story on the making of Facing Fear.) Both films screen as part of the Jews in Shorts (Documentary) program on Tuesday, Aug. 5 at the California Theater in Berkeley and Friday, Aug. 1 at the Castro Theater in San Francisco. Both Sara Berkovich and Jason Cohen will be in attendance for the screenings.

The Festival’s 2014 Freedom of Expression Award will be presented to actor, folk singer, and political activist Theodore Bikel on Thursday, July 31 at the Castro Theater in San Francisco starting at 6:15 p.m. with the world premiere of Theodore Bikel: In the Shoes of Sholem Aleichem.

East Bay venues are Berkeley’s Landmark Theatres California, Berkeley Repertory Theater, and the Grand Lake Theater and The New Parkway Theater in Oakland. Tickets and passes are now on sale. All-Festival passes, discount cards and special prices for students and seniors are available. For ticket information, contact the box office at 415.621.0523 or visit the 34th San Francisco Jewish Film Festival online.

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Emily S. Mendel reviews Berkeley’s vibrant theater scene for Berkeleyside. As a native New Yorker (although an East Bay resident for most of her life), Emily grew up loving and studying theater, from...