A Festival for Cinema, Not Glitz

Winter in Santa Barbara might seem like the season of the never-ending film festival, what with SBIFF’s extended run followed by the Oscars and the newly expanded African Heritage Film Series. But unlike those events, the third annual Santa Barbara Jewish Film Festival is a truncated affair, just a weekend long with only a couple of special events and, thankfully, no tributes or long-winded speeches.

“We’ve sold out every year way in advance anyway, and we’re not about the glitz,” says Jon Greenleaf, who with his wife and festival founder, Barbara, are longtime members of the area’s thriving Jewish community.

Two years ago, Santa Barbara added its name to the more than 100 cities around the world hosting Jewish film festivals making a splash by bringing Academy Award-winning actor Martin Landau to town. But this year’s special guest is George Robinson, film reviewer for New York's Jewish Week, who will ponder the self-reflective question, “Is there really such a thing as a Jewish film?” at a free breakfast at Congregation B'nai B'rith Saturday morning at 9.

Despite taking a screening respite for Sabbath on Friday night and Saturday, the festival manages to squeeze in a full seven films, including opening night’s “Out of Sight,” a thriller that is not to be confused with the George Clooney-Jennifer Lopez caper. The film, which captured 2006 Israeli Film Academy Awards for best cinematography and director, screens at 7:45 pm Thursday following an opening night gala dinner boasting klezmer music at Fess Parker’s DoubleTree Resort.

On Saturday, the English-language feature, “Left Luggage” – starring Isabella Rossellini, Maximilian Schell and Topol in a story that finds a liberated university student nanny coming to terms with her own Holocaust survivor parents – screens at 5:30 pm while “Gloomy Sunday,” a love triangle set in a Budapest restaurant, plays at 8:15 pm after the holiday is over.

Sunday brings four documentaries: “Nicholas Winton: The Power of Good,” a Czech film described as the story of the “British Schindler,” which won an International Emmy (one of Winton’s sons is expected to attend) will run as a double feature with “The World was Ours,” which examines the thriving 500-year-old Jewish community in Vilna, Lithuania, and is narrated by Mandy Patinkin (9:30 am/11 am).

“The Children's House” delves into the artists who as children of committed socialists in the ‘50s were put into a kibbutz to be raised in separate quarters by professionals; their current painful memories are juxtaposed against the “happy” promotional footage produced by the kibbutz at the time. A psychiatrist will lead a discussion following the screening at 1:30 pm. The festival closes with France’s English-language “From Shtetl to Swing: A Musical Odyssey,” a delightfully nostalgic romp with the Jewish entertainers of Tin Pan Alley, including Fanny Brice, Sophie Tucker, Eddie Cantor, Gene Krupa and Benny Goodman. The film is narrated by Harvey Fierstein, and a panel of cultural experts will lead a discussion following the 3:45 pm screening.

Festival passes are sold out, but single admission tickets to screenings at Plaza de Oro Theatre are available at the door for $10 (students $7.50). Call 964-5577 or visit www.sbjff.com.

The CAN Film Festival

Santa Barbara’s Community Action Network is getting in on the film frenzy, too. The organization, which hosted an Oscar party at Madison’s late last month, has announced a new series of screenings, beginning March 29 with the Santa Barbara premiere of “Open Window.” The film – about how a random act of violence stirs buried memories and long-hidden emotions – stars Robin Tunney, Cybill Shepherd and Elliot Gould and represents the writing/directing debut of Mia Goldman, whose impressive résumé of editing credits includes movies as diverse as “Body Heat,” “The Big Chill,” “The Big Easy,” “Dick,” “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” and “The In-Laws.” Co-sponsored by the Santa Barbara Rape Crisis Center and the Fund for Santa Barbara, the event will feature a post-screening panel discussion, including Q&A with Goldman. Call 563-0463.