SEE THE JOURNEY Two young Ethiopian Jews, Demoz and Gezi, travel to America in ‘The Passengers,’ screening at the Sonoma County Virtual Jewish Film Festival.
The Jewish Community Center, Sonoma County shares a world of cinema with the North Bay each fall with the annual Sonoma County Jewish Film Festival.
Like most things in 2020, this year’s Sonoma County Jewish Film Festival is now an online affair, with several films available to watch on-demand through Nov. 16.
Despite the new format, the JCC’s commitment to presenting a diverse and culturally rich array of movies remains strong, with six feature-length films and an exciting short-film program that virtual attendees can stream on a user-friendly digital platform.
“It’s a labor of love, and I’ve learned more and more what that phrase means,” says Festival Director Irène Hodes. “It sounds silly, but working has sometimes been a godsend while sheltering-in-place.”
Last March, Hodes and the JCC experienced their first virtual undertaking when the springtime Israeli Film Festival was moved online as the Covid-19 pandemic hit the North Bay.
“I was determined to make it happen,” Hodes says of that first virtual fest. “We had a mini test run of what a virtual festival could be, and people loved it.”
After that initial success, Hodes and her film committee knew they could make the fall Jewish Film Festival accessible to the online community. Open now, the Sonoma County Jewish Film Festival lets users purchase individual films or a season pass to watch the entire program.
Embracing the new medium, the festival hosts four live filmmaker talks where the community can interact with the creative minds behind the works. There is also an Audience Award for best feature and best short film that users can vote on.
Cinematic highlights of the festival includes the documentary They Ain’t Ready For Me, about Tamar Manasseh, an African American rabbinical student and mother who is leading the fight against violence on Chicago’s South Side through peaceful sit-ins.
“It’s an astonishing documentary,” Hodes says. “People need to know about (Manasseh) and people should see it.”
Hodes is also excited for audiences to see the documentary The Passengers, about two members of the Ethiopian Jewish community who travel to America to appeal for entrance into Israel. Director Ryan S. Porush will appear online for a filmmaker talk on Oct. 27.
The festival is also offering several new fictional films, such as the Israeli LGBTQ drama Sublet, starring Tony Award–winning actor John Benjamin Hickey, and the comedy Mossad, described as the Israeli version of the Naked Gun movies.
Hodes also encourages the virtual audience to screen the festival’s short-film program featuring four international selections that touch on topics such as performing comedy in the West Bank and confronting anti-Semitism in high school.
As with past years, Hodes notes that the festival offers something cinematically for everyone in the North Bay, not just the Jewish community.
“It’s for Sonoma County, it’s for the North Bay, it’s for everything that we’ve been dealing with,” Hodes says. “These are incredible movies. It’s an honor to be able to share them, and everybody can see them at home.”
Sonoma County Virtual Jewish Film Festival is live now through Nov. 16. Season passes, $80–$100; single-film passes, $14–$24. www.jccsoco.org.