23rd Jewish Film Festival a passion project for all involved

By Rob LeDonne

Maxine Geller has been attending the San Diego Jewish Film Festival since its inception 23 years ago. “I’ve always loved the films they show; their quality and diversity constantly stands out,” she said from her office in Del Mar where she works for Coldwell Banker. “I finally got involved volunteering a few years ago, and this year I’m co-chairing a kickoff event. Everything has grown tremendously since that very first festival.”

Geller isn’t exaggerating. This year’s installment will run over the span of 11 days starting Feb. 7, and feature a whopping 47 films. According to a recent press release, it’s widely considered to be “the largest Jewish cultural event in San Diego,” and this year organizers are expecting upwards of 16,000 attendees to watch films that were produced in 10 countries around the world, making it one of the largest Jewish film festivals in the United States.

“This year we have a great roundup of films, they really do cover the gamut,” said Carmel Valley’s Elena Zubarevsky, a senior manager for the US Independence Group, which is an underwriter for the festival. “We’re showcasing everything from documentaries to romantic comedies to thrillers. It’s exciting when I first read the program and see the synopsis (for the various films), I can’t wait to check them out. I went through the schedule with some friends, and we’re planning on attending every night.”

Like Geller, Zubarevsky fell in love with the event the first time she attended the festival in 2007. “My parents were underwriters, and when I moved to San Diego I wanted to get more involved in the Jewish community. I enjoyed going [to the festival] my first time so much, I decided to become an underwriter for the first time in 2008.”

According to Zubarevsky, the Jewish Film Festival is important for a number of reasons: “First off, we don’t get exposure to the kind of films (we’re showing) in the mainstream media, so people wouldn’t have another opportunity to see what’s on our schedule anywhere else. In addition, it’s a great way for the community to get together and challenge their views on things. Not all of these movies are portraying Israel or Judaism in the best light. It’s a chance to talk about difficult topics, and have discussions about them.”

Geller echoes that sentiment, and says she’s most looking forward to the documentaries being shown. “I love watching real people and their real life stories. Like this year’s opening night film, which is Paul Simon’s ‘Under African Skies.’” In addition to the Simon documentary (which focuses on the apartheid in Africa and the making of his classic 1986 album “Graceland”), other highlights of the festival include “Dorfman,” a comedy starring Elliot Gould and Sara Rue; “Hava Nagila,” a documentary about the song; and “Hitler’s Children,” a heart-wrenching documentary which has been previously shown throughout Europe about the descendants of Nazis, many of whom are talking for the first time about their family history.

“The lineup this year is pretty rich compared to previous iterations,” explained Mark Kaufman, a La Jolla financial advisor who is also behind this year’s festival, as well as its signature Flix-Mix event, which is geared toward younger audiences in their 20s, 30s, and 40s. “It should be a lot of fun.”

Kaufman also delved into the significance of the festival: “I think it’s important both internally within the Jewish community, and for the outside community too. We’re opening up so people can see the diversity of the Jewish people.”

Adds Zubarevsky: “We also have a few directors and actors coming to talk about their films, so audiences will get the chance to see the movie and get its background as well.

“It’s way more than just your average movie-going experience on a Friday night.”

The San Diego Jewish Film Festival will be held in four different theaters across San Diego: Carlsbad’s Reading Cinemas 14 (4665 Clairemont Dr.) and Dove Library (1775 Dove Lane); San Marcos Stadium 18 (1180 W. San Marcos Blvd.) in San Marcos; and the Garfield Theatre (4126 Executive Drive), in La Jolla.

For more information, a complete schedule, or to buy tickets, check out or call 858-362-1348.