Filmmakers chart their family histories (and mysteries) at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival
Lighter in tone, but with an equally serious back story, is Daniel Edelstyn's How to Re-Establish a Vodka Empire, which follows the British filmmaker's quest to import the vodka made at the Ukrainian factory once owned by his great-grandfather. The disheveled Edelstyn, who admits he has no business experience, pinballs between charming and exasperating as he fumbles through meetings with distributors and dodges hostile locals in his grandmother's hometown. Despite the film's title, Edelstyn's adventures in booze are less compelling than the tale of that grandmother, whose remarkable life is re-enacted with sepia-toned silent film-style clips (starring Edelstyn's wife, Hilary Powell, who's also the film's cinematographer), and miniature animations.
THE MORE YOU KNOW
There's more for fans of non-narrative cinema, as SFJFF unspools several biopics that also delve into troubled pasts — with significant triumphs along the way. No one embodies this more than Roman Polanski, subject of Roman Polanski: A Film Memoir, directed by Laurent Bouzereau and structured as a sit-down conversation with longtime Polanski pal and producer Andrew Braunsberg. If you're hoping for hardball questions or new information on Polanski's colorful life, prepare for disappointment; the familiar pillars of the Polanski legend (traumatic childhood growing up as a Polish Jew during World War II; filmmaking success with films like 1968's Rosemary's Baby and 1974's Chinatown; wife Sharon Tate's gruesome death at the hands of Charles Manson's followers; and that oh-so-inconvenient sexual assault charge, which came back to haunt him 30 years after the fact) are all covered.
If you've read Roman By Polanski, the director's autobiography, or seen the 2008 doc about his struggle with scandal, Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, this is familiar turf. But to hear the celebrated director share his memories in his own voice, encouraged by an interviewer he trusts, is a unique experience.
You won't hear the spoken voice of passionate, patriotic Yoni Netanyahu, the Israeli commando who died leading the 1976 hostage-rescue mission at Uganda's Entebbe Airport, in Ari Daniel Pinchot and Jonathan Gruber's Follow Me: The Yoni Netanyahu Story. But Netanyahu — adored older brother of Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's current Prime Minister — was prolific letter-writer, and his words (read by actor Marton Csokas) are an invaluable component of this affectionate portrait. But it's not all heroic platitudes: Netanyahu, who also fought in the Six Day War and the Yom Kippur War, put the military above everything else, including his marriage.
"I don't ever remember walking as a young person," jokes sportscasting great Marty Glickman at the start of James Freedman's upbeat Glickman. "I always ran. It was just my nature to run." Though he's referring to his extraordinary sprinting ability, which got him all the way to the 1936 Olympics (where he was denied the chance for certain glory for Hitler-related reasons), it's also kind of how he lived his life, attacking bigotry and adversity with sunny side-up resilience. Glickman died in 2001, but his life was well-documented — when he wasn't making sports history, he was doing the play-by-play for it. As an influential broadcaster (basketball fans: he was the first one to say "Swish!"), there's no shortage of famous fans willing to weigh in: Bob Costas, Bill Bradley, Jerry Stiller, Jim Brown, and Larry King, who has supremely high praise for Glickman's skills: "It was like his voice was attached to the ball."
SAN FRANCISCO JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL
July 19-August 6, most shows $12
Various Bay Area venues