Mar 6, 2024

25th Sacramento Jewish Film Festival Opens on Saturday

To tell you the opening movie would be “Less Than Kosher”

By Ed Goldman

While “Less Than Kosher” would make a fine title for my autobiography, it’s actually the Toronto comedy that opens the 25th Sacramento Jewish Film Festival at 7 p.m. this Saturday. Opening night includes a reception and an after-party—well, after-discussion and mini-concert—with the movie’s screenwriter and star, singer Shaina Silver-Baird.

Other films in the festival—which has theatrical showings through March 17 but also offers two weeks of streaming films you can watch in the privacy of your own den, TV room or stylish yurt March 11-24—include the full-length cartoon “The Prince of Egypt” (about the Exodus) on Sunday March 10, and a tribute to the late and beloved comic actor Gene Wilder (“Young Frankenstein,” “The Producers,” “Blazing Saddles”) on Saturday March 16.

Edgy Cartoon

Teven Laxer keeping it reel at the Crest Theatre

Of special note is that the film “Irena’s Vow,” the true story of a Polish woman who hid Jews in the basement of the German major’s home during World War II, will be debuting here before opening worldwide on April 15.

For a complete list of the showtimes and venues, visit the event’s website. It explains what you can see in person (and where) and even how you can stream the films from your laptop to your TV. 

I spoke last week with the festival’s volunteer organizer, Teven Laxer, who spent 40 years in labor relations. Among his notable achievements in that arena were negotiating the first private-sector contract in the United States offering healthcare benefits to domestic partners, and writing the bill that provided emergency welfare benefits for domestic violence victims.

If these don’t sound like the items you’d find on the résumé of an events coordinator, stay tuned. Laxer also organized a summer film festival for the Sacramento Co-op in 1972, then for the La Semila Cultural Center. And back when he was a student at Harpur’s and organizing events, he also managed to have dinner with Judy Collins (1968) and meet the Grateful Dead during their visit to the campus in 1970.

Harpur College of Arts and Sciences is part of Binghamton University: the state university of New York. Laxer majored there in anthropology, which would seem to have given him a leg up on the sometimes-mortal combat of union bargaining.

Through it all, he’s been an unapologetic “film and music fanatic,” he says (he says his music tastes are eclectic though he most enjoys the folk genre). He views and selects all the movies—27 feature films and 12 short films and nine “shorts”—for the Jewish Film Festival. Laxer points out that security personnel will be on hand for the in-person films, at the aforementioned Veterans Memorial Theatre in Davis as well as The Center at 2300 in Sacramento.

He’s hard-put to cite any single film in the festival as his favorite, though he loves “Remembering Gene Wilder” (“Who didn’t love him?” he says), which screens at The Center, and the documentary on the late former New York Congresswoman Bella Abzug (1920-1998), for whom he worked as a young man.

Laxer and his wife, Dorit Hertz, a retired health educator for the State of California, have two grown children and two grandkids.

I should mention that my chat with Laxer almost didn’t happen. A few moments before he was scheduled to arrive for our interview, he phoned me to say he’d just that very moment been in a car accident on the freeway, about a mile from our destination. He was awaiting a tow truck, a police car and his wife. Two hours later we were on the phone rescheduling. I complimented him on sounding extremely calm under the circumstances. Then I realized that for anyone who organizes major events at which a multitude of things can go wrong at the last minute—and spent decades in intense exchanges on behalf of labor causes—the unspoken mantra must be something along the lines of “The show must go on.”

And so it shall, starting Saturday evening. Hope to see you there, kosher or not.

Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).