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Jewish Film Festival
The saga of the Wandering Jew took both tragic and heroic turns this century, so it's not inappropriate that the last Jewish Film Festival of the millennium claims immigration as its theme. As always, the festival is an uncanny mirror of the Jewish experience, one eye on the uncertain future and the other on the haunted past.

My batting average with this year's program was lower than usual, but The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg qualifies as a home run. Using the Detroit Tigers slugger as a window into pre-World War II American society, the feature-length documentary considers the appeal of assimilation, anti-Semitism in the '30s, and baseball's dominance in the pre-television culture. Screening just once prior to a possible theatrical run and certain TV broadcast, Hank Greenberg is a must-see for anyone interested in recent American history or baseball.

Another documentary, The Seventh Million: The Israelis and the Holocaust, evokes strong emotions -- a discomfiting mix of shock, shame, anger, and embarrassment. The limited response by Palestine's Jews during the Nazi genocide is perhaps understandable, given the state's lack of money and British opposition. But there's no excuse for the extended silence Israelis imposed on Holocaust survivors, only broken by the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem in 1961.

One disappointment is the second batch of episodes from the sparkling Israeli TV series Florentene. The twentysomething cast is still charming and luscious, but the story lines are much shallower than the segments that captivated festival audiences a year ago. Israel also contributes the unsettling closing night film, Yom Yom, a look at the malaise and purposelessness that often infect a young country after solutions to its immediate problems -- food, shelter, security -- have been found.

Finally, fans of Ben Katchor's Cardboard Valise, which runs in the Weekly, should by all means catch "An Evening With Ben Katchor." The master urban cartoonist will serve up a one-of-a-kind slide show; a pair of short film profiles of Katchor are also on the bill.

-- Michael Fox

The Jewish Film Festival runs July 15-22 at the Castro Theater (429 Castro at Market, S.F.), July 24-29 at the UC Theater (2036 University at Shattuck, Berkeley), July 25-29 at the Park Theater (1275 El Camino Real at Valparaiso, Menlo Park), and July 31-Aug. 2 at the Rafael Film Center (1118 Fourth St., San Rafael). Tickets are $6-7.50 for regular screenings (opening and closing nights are more); for more info call 552-FEST or go to www.sfjff.org.

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