Big Screen Berkeley: 37th San Francisco Jewish Film Festival

Samantha Elisofon and Brandon Polanski in Keep the Change

A dogged researcher might prove me wrong, but I think the last time the words ‘romantic comedy’ appeared in Big Screen Berkeley was back in 2010 — and even then, the film under review only contained ‘elements’ of the dreaded rom-com. Since then, the genre and I have politely avoided one another, and we’ve both been very happy with the arrangement.

So much for the foreshadowing: I recently screened a new romantic comedy, and (shockingly!) really enjoyed it. If you’re willing to take your own chance on love, check out Keep the Change, one of the highlights of this year’s San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, which sets up shop in the East Bay at Landmark Theatres Albany Twin between July 20 and Aug. 6.

Screening at 6:15 p.m. on Sunday, July 30, Keep the Change gives this stalest of genres a refreshing and much needed makeover. Set in New York City, the film stars Burt Young-lookalike Brandon Polanski as David, a wealthy 30-something sentenced to attend a local support group for telling an off color joke to a traffic cop.

Yes, there is a meet-cute. The object of his affection is chatty Sarah (Samantha Elisofon), an outgoing soul who enjoys musical theatre and trips to the Brooklyn Bridge. They fall in love and complications ensue when David introduces her to the family, who do not approve.


While this sounds like thoroughly predictable stuff, consider that David and Sarah (and the actors who portray them) are autistic, as are many of the film’s supporting cast. Director Rachel Israel’s pitch-perfect screenplay neither “exoticizes” nor romanticizes her characters, and the result is one of the most heartfelt and honest character-driven films of recent years. Even hard-boiled cynics may feel their heartstrings being tugged.

Heino Ferch in Fritz Lang

Fritz Lang (screening at 8:30 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 3) was neither the stodgy biopic nor the dutiful documentary I anticipated after perusing the festival schedule. Rather, it’s an ambitious hybrid, with Lutz Reitemeier’s rich black-and-white photography blended with period newsreel footage and brief excerpt’s from Lang’s classic 1931 feature M. (Fritz Lang was also shot full-frame to better match the older footage).

The film relates the titular filmmaker’s (Heino Ferch) fascination with the infamous ‘Vampire of Dusseldorf’ case. The ‘vampire’ was actually a middle-aged man named Peter Kürten, who committed a series of gruesome murders in 1929; his rampage influenced Lang’s breakthrough production, which paved the way for the director’s relocation to Hollywood and made a star of Peter Lorre.

Despite Ferch being a bit long in the tooth for the role, director Gordian Maugg’s film is an audacious and mostly successful attempt to make a new kind of biopic. Highly recommended, especially for Lang fans.

Intent to Destroy

If you’d prefer a more straightforward documentary, the festival has several on offer, including Academy Award-nominated Joe Berlinger’s latest. Screening at 3:50 p.m. on Saturday, July 29, Intent to Destroy is the first feature-length doc (or at least, the first I’m aware of) to examine the Armenian Genocide of 1915. While the subject is probably too big for one film, it’s a worthy attempt to confront an issue that is as contentious today as it was a century ago.


Bombshell: The Hedy Lamar Story

Finally, Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story (screening at 4:45 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 5) offers the strange tale of one of 1930s cinema’s most unusual stars. The Austrian-born Lamarr (born Hedwig Kiesler) was, as it turns out, more than just a pretty face: she was also an inventor whose work with radio frequencies paved the way for wireless technology. Thanks in part to Tondalayo, mobile phones are a thing!