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Five Can't-Miss Picks From the SF Jewish Film Festival

My Dad is Baryshnikov

Still from My Dad is Baryshnikov. Original photo here.

Hewing to its diasporic theme, the Jewish Film Festival hosts screenings all around the Bay for the next three weeks, doing duty for it's first week at the hallowed Castro Theatre before stops in Berkeley, San Rafael and points south. We've chosen five can't-miss picks from the 63 films screening in this year's fest:

My Dad is Baryshnikov

Scrawny, fatherless Boris pluckily suffers each day at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy in 1980s Moscow in search of the approval of the most beautiful girl in school and ever-elusive meat rations. After a friend points out a resemblance from a grainy VHS, a seed is planted: he is clearly the son of ballet badass Mikhail Baryshnikov. Boris' newfound confidence (and some good luck) propels him to the head of the class ...and then back down again, where he'd probably rather be. This slacker riff on Billy Elliot wisely doesn't ride the inspirational rails of adversity and perseverance to untold fame and fortune, but wryly points out that there's more than one way to "show 'em all," and stay smiling while you do it. Click here for times and ticketing

Roman Polanski: A Film Memoir

Filling in the gaps left by Marina Zenovich's 2008 scandal chronicle Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, A Film Memoir lays out the extraordinary life of the prolific Polish director in his own words, from his youth in ghettos of Krakow to the murder of then wife Sharon Tate by Manson's followers through his most recent imprisonment in Switzerland in 2010, during which much of the doc was filmed. While less technically dazzling than its predecessor, this Memoir is nonetheless a must see for casual fans on up--with a man as storied as Polanski as its subject, how could it not be? Click here for times and ticketing

The Day I Saw Your Heart

In the last 10 years, when spectacle-obsessed Hollywood has dropped the ball, France has increasingly picked it up, generating volumes of the kind of crowd-pleasing Fugitive chasers (Tell No One), concept heavy FX films (Enter the Void) and sepia-toned slashers (High Tension, Frontier[s]) we used to rely on for export. Soon, it appears, the rom-com will be wrested from our clutches as well. Though not as quite as ingenious as Mike Mills outstanding Beginners, The Day easily places in the top tier thanks to their shared star: the unbelievably charming Mélanie Laurent (Inglourious Basterds), a show-stealing turn by outsider character legend Michel Blanc, and a witty, if wish-fulfilling script. Click here for times and ticketing

The Flat

While cleaning the home of his recently departed grandmother, filmmaker Arnon Goldfinger discovers that his grandparents, German émigrés, maintained a relationship with a Nazi official before and after World War I. This leads him down a path to deeper and more disturbing discoveries. Awarded at Tribeca for editing, The Flat isn't as riveting as some of the literature floating around would have you believe, but it's a unique and fascinating take on a now well established form, the Holocaust documentary, which opens a number of dialogues about generational memory and the schism between the polarized present and a more ambiguous past. Click here for times and ticketing

A. K. A. Doc Pomus

Castro's closing night film sings praises (and the blues) for songsmith Doc Pomus (née Jerome Felder), one of the prize horses the Brill Building, center of New York's bygone radio capital Tin Pan Alley. While sharing office space with other legendary names like Bobby Darin, Neil Diamond and Phil Spector, with whom he collaborated on a handful of tunes, Pomus wrote scores of tunes but is perhaps best known for Dion and the Belmont's hit "Teenager in Love" -- expect to see a fine showing of SF's famously well-informed 45 (rpm) fanatics in the crowd. Click here for times and ticketing.