What she sees

Truth, tears, and staple-gun battles: San Francisco Jewish Film Festival's female-centric films

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In the Image

cheryl@sfbg.com

SFJFF The San Francisco Jewish Film Festival opens July 24 with The Green Prince, a documentary based on the memoir of Mosab Hassan Yousef. The son of a founding member of Hamas, he worked as an undercover agent for the Israeli secret service for 10 years, sharing a profound trust with his Shin Bet handler. The closing night film is also a documentary about a conflicted childhood that paves the way for tough choices later in life — but if Little White Lie is also a personal story, it's a far less political one.

It's a thoroughly American story, telling the tale of filmmaker Lacey Schwartz, who was raised by her parents — both products of "a long line of New York Jews" — in the decidedly homogeneous town of Woodstock. All of Schwartz's grade-school friends had light skin and straight hair, while Schwartz was dark, with coarse curls. Lovingly recorded snapshots and home movies of her Bat Mitzvah and other occasions suggest a happy young life, but the "600-pound gorilla in the room," as one relative puts it, was that Schwartz did not look white, despite ostensibly having white parents. Once she reached her teenage years — and particularly after she enrolled in a high school that had African American kids among its population — she began to realize the go-to family explanation (yeah ... that one Sicilian way back in the family tree ...) was nothing but a flimsy excuse holding back a mountain of denial.

Now in her 30s, Schwartz has overcome years of identity confusion and is self-confidently assertive in a manner that suggests years of therapy (and indeed, we see footage of sessions she filmed for a student project at Georgetown, where she found a supportive community among the Black Student Alliance). Her parents, however, are not quite as psychologically evolved, although her mother — a pleasant woman who has nonetheless been content to spend her life surfing the waves of passive-aggression — eventually opens up about the Schwartz family's worst-kept secret. The aptly-titled Little White Lie clocks in at just over an hour, but it packs in a miniseries' worth of emotional complexity and honesty. Schwartz will be on hand at the film's San Francisco and Berkeley screenings — the Q&As are sure to be lively.

Another, rather different tale of women using cameras in pursuit of the truth surfaces in Judith Montell and Emmy Scharlatt's In the Image, a doc about Palestinian women who work with Israeli human-rights NGO B'Tselem. Group members, who include high school girls and middle-aged mothers, are given small video cameras to keep an eye on protests, harassment, and anti-Palestinian violence perpetrated by Israeli soldiers and settlers. (In one disturbing clip, we see a small child launch a giant spitball at the lens.) Able to capture footage in areas deemed off-limits to mainstream journalists, In the Image shows how B'Tselem brings investigative reporting to the front lines, and then to the world (thanks, YouTube). It's also an empowering outlet for the camerawomen-activists, for whom career opportunities are otherwise as rare as are opportunities for artistic expression.

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