Pauline Kael Leads the People of the Screen at SFJFF

The critic and the personality get the star treatment in Rob Garver’s affectionate documentary, What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael, which has its Bay Area premiere in the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.


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You may be too young to know that Pauline Kael started out in Berkeley. In fact, you might be too young to know Pauline Kael. The New Yorker’s passionate film critic 1968-91, Kael lit the flame for moviegoing baby boomers and inspired an entire generation of (male) critics. Before she clambered onto the national stage, though, the daughter of Petaluma chicken farmers penned reviews for KPFA and programmed the Berkeley Cinema Guild in the ’50s. The critic and the personality get the star treatment in Rob Garver’s affectionate documentary, What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael, which has its Bay Area premiere in the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.

Kael’s Jewish upbringing was as much a part of her work as Anton Yelchin’s. The Russian-born actor, who starred in three Star Trek movies and several other films before he died in a freak accident in 2016 at the age of 27, was sufficiently accomplished and sufficiently promising to warrant his own documentary, Love, Antosha. Yet another Hollywood figure commands the spotlight in Curtiz, a black-and-white fantasia from Hungary that re-creates the drama behind Casablanca director Michael Curtiz’s accidental masterpiece.

Berkeley native Rachel Leah Jones will attend the SFJFF with Advocate, her verité portrait of attorney Lea Tsemel, who’s dedicated her career to defending Palestinians in Israeli courts. Underwater photographer (and Pacific Grove resident) Amos Nachoum is equally unrelenting; in Yonatan Nir and Dani Menkin’s doc, Picture of His Life, the intrepid 60-something pursues a swimming date with a polar bear.

The narrative films in the S.F. Jewish Film Festival are led by The Tobacconist, which imagines a friendship between Sigmund Freud and a teenage boy in pre-war Vienna. The politics of the outside world likewise affects the protagonist of Tel Aviv on Fire, a young Palestinian who lands a gig writing for a soap opera. You can be sure Pauline Kael would have had strong opinions about both of them.

S.F. Jewish Film Festival, July 25-Aug. 1, Albany Twin Theater, 1115 Solano St., Albany, and Aug. 2-4, Piedmont Theatre, 4186 Piedmont Ave., Oakland, JFI.org/film-festival.

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