The current ghastly violence in the Middle East will no doubt lend a strange cast to this year’s opening night documentary, about the friendship between a Palestinian counter-spy and his Israeli handler. For that reason alone I want to be there. I vividly recall having to preside at SFJFF’s Opening Night in 2006, days after the hostilities with Hezbollah in Lebanon had broken out. Watching films as a community can’t solve a crisis, but it sure beats fretting at home, clicking on the latest handheld video reportage on YouTube, and feeling helpless.
I first met director Lacey Schwartz in Fall 2006, when her idea to tell the story of being both black and Jewish was in a very early stage and her proposed film, then titled “Outside the Box,” was sketchy at best. How wonderful to see that she has pulled off a terrific personal documentary, strong enough to be the festival’s Closing Night. I was thrilled to write the program note.
Another example of a documentary long brewing: for several years, Yoav Shamir—talented and provocative maker of Checkpoint, Defamation and Five Days—has been pondering on the kinds of people who become moral heroes. He shared with me once that, in considering the infamous Milgrom obedience experiments, he was interested not in exploring the psychology of the majority of participants who kept pushing the buttons that (they thought) tortured unseen subjects, but rather in understanding the few participants who resisted. This film—which I haven’t yet seen—is the result.
Scripted with a bold storytelling style and beautifully shot to reflect the mystical-fabular nature of the story, this is a present-day morality tale that is as fascinating a drama as I’ve seen in a long while. My description in the online catalog is a sufficient statement of why I like the film, but, like the Coen Brothers’ A Serious Man or Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors, it’s the kind of film I want to see again just to chew over.
If you missed it at Frameline, here’s your chance to see Nancy Kates’s thoughtful and deeply engrossing account of the life and (self-)image of America’s most glamorous and prolific public intellectual.
If you need a shot of optimism about the future of our sorry world, come meet Mica, the adolescent hero of this Bay Area-bred documentary, as it follows his attempts over several years to bring much-needed baseball equipment to kids in Cuba. Full disclosure: Mica’s parents—the talented local filmmakers Ken Schneider and Marcia Jarmel—are friends of mine, but I’ve been watching their film deepen and grow from where it started, and it has flowered into a beautiful and surprising evocation of tikkun olam. Don't miss this uplifting and touching chronicle, and the chance to meet the whole family at several Bay Area screenings.