Documentary film has always played a significant role at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, which is the oldest and largest such festival in the world. Over the years it has earned a national and international reputation for bold programming that takes on political and social issues. As an independent nonprofit arts organization, the SFJFF is able to screen a wide range of work and reach out to a broad – not solely Jewish – audience. Other U.S.-based Jewish film festivals are programs of Jewish community centers or institutions and are beholden to the policies and views of their organizations.
From its early days, the festival made a point of engaging its audiences and promoting dialog about politics and ideas. Occasionally, its programming stirred up controversy. Deborah Kaufman, co-director of Between Two Worlds and founder of the SFJFF, says the Festival’s first big confrontation with the Jewish community was in 1988 when it screened Talking to the Enemy, a British documentary about an Israeli and a Palestinian, followed by a talk with Palestinian peace activist Mubarak Awad. One result was that the Koret Foundation, a philanthropic organization, pulled its funding from the festival.
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