Now Playing! Reality Rules at Jewish Film Institute’s WinterFest

Still from Barnabás Tóth's 'Those Who Remained.' (Courtesy of the Jewish Film Institute)

Local filmmaker Molly Stuart’s character-driven feature debut, Objector, like most documentaries, is an act of commitment, optimism and resistance. Stuart’s doggedness and sacrifice, though, pale next to that of her subject. Objector, screening Sunday afternoon, March 1 in the Jewish Film Institute’s annual weekend WinterFest (Feb. 29–March 1 at the Vogue), traces the personal journey and public criticism of Israeli teenager Atalya Ben-Abba, who challenges her family’s expectations and her society’s norms by declining mandatory military service.

The JFI, whose primary event is the summer San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, is one of a handful of Bay Area film titans who you might have noticed present out-of-season mini-bashes. The Silent Film Festival is another, and the Mill Valley Film Festival initiated an annual springtime documentary fest a few years ago. SFFILM, in addition to the SFFILM Festival, has for many years presented contemporary surveys of national cinemas in the fall.

Good movies are released year-round, of course, and the best justification for off-season expansion is that some films demand to be seen now rather than later. Objector is Exhibit A—if, that is, one believes Netanyahu (and Trump) have an iota of interest in peace. If you don’t, Objector may seem less urgent, and Atalya’s high-stakes act of conscience more quixotic than inspiring.

The WinterFest lineup is dominated by nonfiction, which feels like something of a public service at the present time. You can tell by the title if you want to see Oliver Sacks: His Own Life, Ric Burns’ behind-the-scenes portrait, and Bully, Coward, Victim. The Story of Roy Cohn, made for HBO by Ethel and Julius Rosenberg’s granddaughter, Ivy Meeropol.

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Dramatizing real events in a narrative film is a high-wire proposition, one that writer-director Yaron Zilberman pulls off flawlessly in Incitement. This mesmerizing movie, which won Israel’s top awards and was its official submission for the recent Oscars, follows observant Jewish law student Yigal Amir (Yehuda Nahari in a simultaneously appealing and repellent performance) as he gradually, inexorably becomes more radicalized by right-wing rhetoric and leaders. The camera is practically on Amir’s shoulder all the way until the moment he shoots Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

If you can only see one selection at WinterFest, and you are remotely a fan of nuanced European films, do not miss the understated Hungarian drama Those Who Remained. Barnabás Tóth’s tale of the unlikely friendship between a resentful teenager and a doctor who’s a shell of his former self—both of whom lost their families at the hands of the Nazis—is sensitive, subtle and profound. Those Who Remained will open in the spring, but it’s well worth seeing now rather than later. One discerns in it the spirit of resistance, at the present time.