Movie News & Reviews

SLO Jewish Film Festival takes its cues from Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Farnez (Salma Hayek) and Isaac (Adrien Brody) see their hometown of Tehran transform during the 1979 Iranian Revolution in “Septembers of Shiraz.” The movie plays Sunday at the Palm Theatre in San Luis Obispo as part of the San Luis Obispo Jewish Film Festival.
Farnez (Salma Hayek) and Isaac (Adrien Brody) see their hometown of Tehran transform during the 1979 Iranian Revolution in “Septembers of Shiraz.” The movie plays Sunday at the Palm Theatre in San Luis Obispo as part of the San Luis Obispo Jewish Film Festival.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day will set the tone this weekend at the San Luis Obispo Jewish Film Festival.

This year’s festival, which coincides with the federal holiday honoring the late civil rights leader, explores the themes of service, sacrifice and history.

“There’s an interwoven narrative of American Jewish history … and African-American history” dating back decades, explained Lauren Bandari, executive director of the JCC-Federation of San Luis Obispo, which sponsors the festival. “It’s not something overly talked about, and it’s something to embrace and remember.”

Now in its seventh year, the San Luis Obispo Jewish Film Festival seeks to celebrate cultural diversity, Bandari said, with a special emphasis on Jewish identity.

About 1,000 people are expected to attend this year’s festival, Bandari said, attending movie screenings and question-and-answer sessions. Two receptions — Saturday’s sold-out soiree at SLO Provisions and a 4 p.m. Sunday shindig at Luna Red in San Luis Obispo — will give festivalgoers more chances to mingle with filmmakers.

Missing in action is special effects makeup artist Howard Berger, originally scheduled to receive the festival’s Lifetime Achievement Award on Saturday.

“His shooting schedule changed, and he had no choice” but to postpone his visit, Bandari explained, adding that Berger will likely attend the festival next year.

Star power instead will come from the Irina Star Legacy Award — named after staunch film festival supporter Irina Starodubzew of San Luis Obispo, who died in August. It honors those who perform “outstanding service to the community.”

“She definitely left her legacy, and we’re proud to carry it on,” Bandari said of Starodubzew.

The award’s first recipients are San Luis Obispo teacher and textbook author Pat McKeague and his wife, Diane.

“They support community and culture in San Luis Obispo, which is exactly what the film festival is about,” Bandari said.

The McKeagues will be honored 7 p.m. Saturday at the Palm Theatre in San Luis Obispo.

Following the award presentation is a screening of the documentary “Rosenwald.” It profiles Sears co-owner and philanthropist Julius Rosenwald, whose Rosenwald Fund donated millions to support the education of African-American children in the rural South; his great-grandson, Lessing Stern, will participate in a Q&A session.

Food is the focus of two short documentaries screening at 10:30 a.m. Sunday at the Palm Theatre. “Breakfast at Ina’s” celebrates Chicago restaurateur Ina Pinkney, while “Life & Hummus” looks at the popular Middle Eastern food. Pinkney herself will field questions at the event, as will hummus-loving filmmaker Alex Matros.

Playing at the same time are free educational offerings for kids: American history miniseries “This Is America, Charlie Brown,” recommended for ages 5 and older, and Holocaust family drama “Miracle at Midnight,” recommended for 10 and older.

At 1:30 p.m., the short film “Edge,” about a Jewish resident adviser who experiences a hate crime, precedes the harrowing feature-length drama “Septembers of Shiraz.” (People involved in each film will attend the screening.) Based on Dalia Sofer’s novel “The Septembers of Shiraz,” the latter stars Adrien Brody as a prosperous Jewish jeweler in Tehran in the early days of the 1979 Iranian Revolution.

The evening wraps up with a 7 p.m. screening of “The Pickle Recipe,” a playful comedy about a down-on-his-luck party emcee (Jon Dore) trying to steal his grandmother (Lynn Cohen)’s top-secret dill pickle recipe. Movie lovers can quiz director Michael Manasseri and producer Eddie Rubin about their pickle preferences following the showing.

On Monday, the JCC-Federation is sponsoring free screenings of “From Swastika to Jim Crow” in Atascadero, Nipomo and San Luis Obispo. The documentary explores how Jewish professors fleeing Nazi Germany found new homes at historically black colleges and universities in the American South.

Bandari said Martin Luther King Jr. Day provides the perfect opening to talk about Jews’ involvement in the civil rights movement — and to bridge the gap between the JCC-Federation and other community groups.

“Although we may be different, we’re (all) still part of the community,” Bandari added. “You don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy the Jewish Film Festival.”

San Luis Obispo Jewish Film Festival

Various times, Saturday through Monday

Various locations, San Luis Obispo

$15 to $75, $125 Sunday package, $175 festival package; some events free

805-426-5465 or