By Ron Merk
August 24th marked the opening of the 34th annual San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, with the documentary film, “The Green Prince,” based on the book “Son of Hamas,” the story of a Palestinian, Mosab Hassan Youssef (son of the founder of Hamas) and an Israeli Secret Service Officer, Gonen Ben Yitzak. The film is a harrowing narrative of how these two mend from opposite sides worked together to diffuse the explosive relationship between Israel and Hamas, often to their own distress and danger, and the loss of any kind of personal life. I’m planning a complete review of the film in September, when it will be released theatrically, so all I will say at this point is that it is a compelling film, with the two protagonists on screen to tell their story in a very personal way. When the director of the film, Nadav Schirman, announced that both of the subjects of the film were in the theater, the audience rose to their feet in a burst of prolonged applause, and we got to see the two men on stage and listen to more of this incredible story.
This film was a great opening night choice by the SFJFF programmers. It’s rare that a documentary gets the opening night slot in most festivals, but I can say without reservation, that this film was the perfect film to set the tone of what the festival does… presenting multiple points of view on a very complicated, emotion and dangerous situation, that of the clash between Israel and its West Bank brothers. If one goes back to the story of Abraham, Isaac and Ishmael, one could easily say that the Israel and Palestine are half-brothers (and sisters), and that this conflict is an old one, soaked in blood and recrimination and anger, and a complicated one to resolve. There’s nothing worse than a family feud.
After the intense opening night film, many festival guests attended a great opening night party at The San Francisco Contemporary Jewish Museum, which opened its doors after hours. Food and drink, supplied by many local companies and restaurants, was bountiful and delicious, creating a wonderful atmosphere of celebration. It was the perfect ending to an evening which began at the Castro with the director and the two subjects of The Green Prince present. Unlike many parties where the stars make a token appearance, Nadav, Mosab and Gonen stayed for the whole party and spoke to many of the audience members on a very personal level. I got an opportunity to speak to each of them, and it was a palpably touching experience to meet real heroes who managed to make a difference in this dreadful conflict. What’s interesting is that they are ordinary people who have done extraordinary things. It reminded me that we can all make a difference if we find a way to do it, and then DO it.
I attended the film and party with my good friend, local photographer and filmmaker, Audrey Daniel. When we got to the party and saw the abundance of wonderful food and drink, we could not settle an argument. My family is Italian, and Audrey’s is Jewish, and the argument that would never end is who enjoys food and eating more? I then posited that I think that food is something that makes us all one nationality and one race.
In fact, one of the things that the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival does is make every event and film a personal experience. The films, their messages, their makers and the festival staff truly reach out to the audience, and touch them. By that I mean that they make the festival something more than just a series of films. It is much bigger than that. They create a place and a mindset where different opinions, no matter how opposing they might be, can be explained, and finally understood.
The festival concluded on Sunday at the Castro, but continues at locations in the East Bay, Oakland San Rafael and other Bay Area Locations, so if you missed a film at the Castro, there’s a good chance you can still see that film at another venue.
My congratulations to the festival management, incredible volunteers, and of course to the wonderful audiences who come to the festival each year from far and wide, and are genuinely engaged with the films and the filmmakers. To all, Mazel Tov!
For the schedule, and more information about the festival, visit www.sfjff.org.