The San Francisco Jewish Film Festival (SFJFF) was conceived and founded by Deborah Kaufman in 1980. Her goal was to use cinema to spark a new and open discussion of politics and culture inside the Jewish community and to challenge Hollywood stereotypes of Jews in the public at large. Three institutions—the Judah L. Magnes Museum, the American Film Institute in Washington DC, and the UCLA Film Archives—supported the first Jewish Film Festival (1981), consisting of 10 independently produced documentary and fiction films from around the world. Kaufman was joined in 1982 by Janis Plotkin, who served as Associate Director, Co-Director and Executive Artistic Director during her tenure at SFJFF.
The Festival was an immediate hit, featuring movies for a new generation bred on mass media but tired of Hollywood’s limited portrayals of Jewish life. SFJFF sought out films with diverse points of view for those who did not affiliate with—or indeed had become disaffected by—traditional Jewish institutions. Just as important, SFJFF provided a safe entryway into Jewish culture for anyone willing to pay the cost of a movie ticket. The programming approach was fresh and bold: SFJFF offered a departure from commercial presentations of Holocaust themes, which tended to emphasize Jews’ victim status, while providing alternatives to the often uncritical view of life and politics in Israel available in the established American Jewish community. The festival also made a strong point of including and celebrating films about communities not often heard from in mainstream life including Sephardic Jewish life, the culture of Mizrahi Jews (Jews from Arab lands) and gays and lesbians as well as quirky and experimental cinema that expanded the notion of Jewish film. The Festival’s early years included film screenings in both Berkeley and San Francisco—first at the Roxie Theatre, and later at the venerable Castro Theatre beginning in 1988.
Read more from the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival website.