In its 34th year, the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival continues an annual tradition of selecting a diverse slate of films that enlighten and entertain.

The festival kicks off July 24 with a screening of Nadav Schirman's award-winning "The Green Prince," a documentary detailing how Palestinian Mosab Hassan Yousef became an informant for Israel's security service, Shin Bet. The festival runs through Aug. 10 and will feature 67 works, a number of which showcase the craftsmanship of Bay Area filmmakers. Movies will be shown in Oakland, Berkeley, Palo Alto, San Francisco and San Rafael. In the East Bay, Berkeley Repertory Theatre gets into the act by hosting the "Berkeley Big Night" on Aug. 2, with a screening of "The Sturgeon Queens," a warmhearted documentary about New York City's beloved Russ & Daughters store, which is marking its 100th anniversary. After the film, a reception follows in the theater's courtyard.

For many, the grandest event arrives when organizers present their 2014 Freedom of Expression Award to actor, singer and activist Theodore Bikel. Best known for his portrayal of Tevye onstage in "Fiddler on the Roof," the 90-year-old will attend the July 31 screening of the documentary "Theodore Bikel: In the Shoes of Sholom Aleichem." Bikel will participate in a Q&A session and grace the stage with a performance after the world premiere screening at the Castro Theatre.

That film, which showcases Bikel's command of the stage and his evocative voice, is worth adding to the must-see list for anyone interested in him and cherished writer Aleichem. Here are five other recommendations.


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  • "Regarding Susan Sontag": Berkeley filmmaker Nancy Kates' informative, elegantly constructed documentary illuminates the eventful life of the iconic and influential American writer and thinker. Kates gives us a full-bodied portrait of Sontag not only through the essayist's provocative thoughts -- expressed in well-done voice-overs -- but also from those who knew and loved the complicated and talented writer. Don't miss this fascinating film. Kates, the director, is slated to attend the screenings. (July 28 at CineArts in Palo Alto; Aug. 2 at the Castro; Aug. 3 at Berkeley's California.)

  • "Watchers of the Sky": Evocative animation, haunting imagery and humbling personal stories are seamlessly brought together in this ambitious documentary about genocide and the fearless man who came up with that term for it. Director Edet Belzberg accomplishes an amazing feat, richly detailing Raphael Lemkin's valiant efforts to demand that the world do something about global human rights atrocities, while showing us -- through Lemkin's poetic words as well as those raised by others in this battle, including Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and ambassador Samantha Power -- our obligation to play a part in stopping it. An important film that needs to be seen. (July 28 at the Castro; July 29 at CineArts; Aug. 9 at Oakland's Grand Lake; Aug. 10 in San Rafael.)

  • "Run Boy Run": Expect to be moved to tears by this gorgeously photographed but harrowing account of an 8-year-old Jewish boy fleeing the Nazis and hiding out in the forests of Poland. Director Pepe Danquart's feature is a straight-up tale of the resilience of the human spirit, and it's a gripping narrative based on a true story. (July 29 at the Castro; July 30 at CineArts; Aug. 7 at the California.)

  • "Zero Motivation": If you're hankering for something completely different from the films above, hustle over to the Castro to see director Talya Lavie's witty debut, a dramedy that bustles with attitude and style. Anchored around the fluctuating friendship between two women serving in the Israeli Defense Forces, "Motivation" lets us in on the drudgery, absurdity and reams of paper work these two different fictional characters encounter. Sprinkled in between the crazy, often shocking developments are piercing observations about being female in a male-dominated world. What a debut. (Aug. 2 at the Castro.)

  • "Little White Lie": Sometimes personal documentaries -- the ones in which filmmakers turn the cameras on themselves -- can be like that friend who shares way too much on Facebook. Lacey Schwartz avoids that because she has one intriguing story to tell. "Little White Lie," which receives its world premiere here, is a candid look at race, family secrets and a Jewish woman's determined journey to discover who she really is. I was hooked throughout. (Aug. 3 at the Castro; Aug. 4 at Berkeley's California; Aug. 7 at Oakland's New Parkway Theater; Aug. 9 in San Rafael.)

    San Francisco
    Jewish Film Festival
    When: July 24-Aug. 10
    Where: Various Bay Area theaters
    Tickets: $9-$14; special events cost more
    Schedule and to order tickets:
    www.sfjff.org
    Phone: 415-621-0523