The bloody Old Testament declaration "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" isn't what drove thousands of Jewish boys to take up boxing a century ago. They were seeking a meal ticket out of New York's Lower East Side and Chicago's West Side, and there were no Jewish quotas in the ring. The 27th annual San Francisco Jewish Film Festival pays tribute to that crucial step on the path to mainstream assimilation with a sidebar of boxing flicks, headed by a revival of the 1925 silent melodrama His People, featuring New York City composer Paul Shapiro performing his recent score live with a six-piece jazz band. The immortal Body and Soul (1947) stars all-time tough guy John Garfield (born Julius Garfinkle) as a champ who loses his soul fighting his way to the top; the same fate is unlikely to befall Dmitriy Salita, a Russian immigrant and religious Jew whose nascent pro career as a promising welterweight unfolds in the documentary Orthodox Stance.
The onscreen violence isn't limited to athletes complying with codified rules, needless to say. Punches and counter-punches have typified the Israeli-Palestinian relationship in recent years, and the fest's typically strong selection of docs provides an illuminating and frustrating snapshot. Hot House, which provides face time to a range of Palestinians doing time in Israeli prisons, will shake your sympathies and biases regardless of which way you lean. Another Israeli-made portrait, 9 Star Hotel, diligently exposes the plight of a shadowy band of Palestinian laborers working illegally in Israel and living rough in the hills.
If, like that nice Jewish girl Carly Simon, you haven't got time for the pain, the fest offers several peripatetic comedies from France, Germany, Mexico, and the U.S., and a trove of music films that hit every note from Arabic to classical to rock. Knock yourself out (as the boxing metaphor goes) enjoying the lighter fare, for there's something for every taste. But if you want our considered opinion, don't skip the bare-knuckles stuff. This year, the S.F. Jewish Film Festival is the place to go if you're looking for a fight.
Today's screenings start at 11:30 a.m. with I Am You Are at the Castro Theatre, 429 Castro (at Market), S.F. Admission is $9-11.