SF Jewish Film Festival Starts Today

The San Francisco Jewish Film Festival (SFJFF) — the oldest festival of its kind, now in its 35th year — opens today at the Castro Theatre, where narratives and documentaries on diverse subjects will be screened for 11 film-packed days.

The festival will also bring its programs to the California Theatre in Berkeley, the CineArts in Palo Alto, the Lakeside Theater in Oakland and the Christopher B. Smith Rafael Film Center on San Rafael, where screenings will continue on various dates through Aug. 9.

The festival this year marks a change of name as well. The newly launched Jewish Film Institute represents a renaming of the year-round organization which presents the festival and which also functions as a full-service media arts organization serving audiences worldwide.

The festival opens with “Dough,” a British comedy starring Jonathan Pryce as the owner of a failing Kosher bakery in London’s East End. After the baker hires a Muslim apprentice from Darfur (Ricard Holden), the unlikely duo not only forges a strong personal relationship, but also revitalizes the business through an accidental but very popular recipe innovation.

The closing night offering at the Castro is Israeli singer/songwriter David Broza’s “East Jerusalem/West Jerusalem,” adocumentary chronicling the making of his album of the same name.

In the album, Broza — sometimes dubbed the “Israeli Bruce Springsteen” — showcases Israeli-Arab and Palestinian musicians, recorded in an East Jerusalem studio, on the streets of the Old City and in the Shuafat refugee camp. His goal, peaceful coexistence, with music as its bridge, underlies the effort.

Among other highlights of this year’s festival are the Sunday interview at the Castro with Freedom of Expression Award recipient Lee Grant, who was blacklisted for 12 years in McCarthy-era Hollywood, and the screening of her directorial debut, “Tell Me A Riddle.”

Other entries include “Raise the Roof,” a documentary about an extraordinary effort to resurrect an 18th century Polish wooden synagogue destroyed by the Nazis; a group of powerful films about Ethiopians in Israel and Ethiopia; “Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict;” and the July 31 Castro screening of a group of social justice films in conjunction with local community groups, intended to “repair the world, one film at a time.”

Convicted Chief Financial Officer Indicted On New Fraud And Contempt Charges

A former chief financial officer who admitted stealing more than $2 million from his employer has been indicted by a federal grand jury in San Francisco on new charges of fraud allegedly committed both before and after his previous conviction.

Henry Lo, 51, of San Francisco, a former CFO of the now-defunct Absolutely New Inc., is currently serving a sentence of five years and 10 months in prison for his previous fraud conviction.

In the earlier case, Lo pleaded guilty in federal court in San Francisco in November to two counts of wire fraud with company funds and one count of bank fraud in a separate scheme against an individual.

He admitted during the plea that he stole a total of more than $2 million from Absolutely New between 2008 and 2012, through a combination of cashier’s checks deposited in his accounts and payments to his credit card and brokerage accounts.

Some of the thefts occurred after his employment was terminated in September 2010. The company, which sought to help inventors launch new products, went out of business in 2012.

Lo also admitted to diverting $125,000 into his wife’s brokerage account in 2013 in checks that had been intended as tax payments by a friend for whom he promised to prepare tax returns.

U.S. District Judge William Orrick sentenced him to the prison term on April 9 and also ordered him to pay restitution of $2,198,195 to the company and $34,670 to the individual victim. Lo previously repaid the individual $91,000, prosecutors said in a filing.

The new indictment, issued by a federal grand jury on Tuesday, charges Lo with 13 additional counts of fraud, contempt of court and other offenses.

One of the charges is contempt of court for violating a court order by transferring his ownership interest in a $3.1 million house in San Francis Wood to his wife in August 2014. The order, issued by a federal magistrate in 2013 in a civil lawsuit filed by a bank, barred him from selling or transferring property except as needed for reasonable living expenses.

Lo is accused of eight counts of bank fraud for allegedly misappropriating about $984,000 worth of checks intended as federal tax payments in 2014 and 2015 by a company, Character SF LLC, for which he was serving as a contract chief financial officer.

He is also charged with identity theft in forging the signature of a company owner, two counts of engaging in financial transactions with illegal proceeds and contempt of court for engaging in additional crimes following his previous conviction.

A date for his initial court appearance on the new charges has not yet been set.

Report Calls For Legalized Marijuana To Be Heavily Regulated

A blue-ribbon panel chaired by Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom Wednesday released a policy report recommending that any move to legalize marijuana in California should emphasize public safety, limiting access by minors, and limiting corporate control over the maximization of tax revenue.

While the report, drafted by Newsom, Stanford University professor Keith Humphreys and Abdi Sultani, director of the American Civil Liberties Union in California, does not explicitly endorse legalization, it calls for marijuana to be heavily regulated by the state to reduce the illicit marketplace.

The report includes 58 policy and implementation recommendations drawn from a review of experiences both in California and in other states with marijuana legalization and enforcement.

The report sets policy goals including the protection of youth and public safety, the minimization of racial and economic disparities in criminal enforcement, increased access to education and treatment, protection of the environment from growing operations, protections for workers and the establishment of a marketplace dominated by small and mid-size players rather than large corporate interests.

A 2014 survey by the National Institute on Drug Abuse found that 34 percent of 10th graders had used marijuana, while 44 percent of all 12th graders had done so, the commission noted. By contrast, only 23 percent of 10th graders had used tobacco.

“Diverse stakeholders with diverse views can agree on fundamental goals for marijuana legalization: Protecting kids, improving public safety and limiting corporate control,” Humphreys said.

Seeking to maximize tax revenues could run counter to those goals, according to the commission.

“If this is done right, we have an opportunity to improve the status quo by making marijuana difficult for kids to access, while limiting the unintended consequences that have characterized past ballot initiatives,” Newsom said in a statement.

For the ACLU, racial disparities in law enforcement and public health remain a major concern, Soltani said.

“We looked at legalization in terms of what is unique about California and at the top of that list is the racial diversity of our 38 million residents,” Soltani said. “We shouldn’t trade the racial disparities of past marijuana enforcement with racial disparities in a new industry, or in public health.”

The panel was formed with the ACLU in 2013 after voters in Washington and Colorado approved ballot measures legalizing marijuana. It was intended to help guide policy in California, where voters are expected to see at least one legalization measure on the November ballot this year.

Most prominently, a group called Reform CA announced Friday that it planned to file a ballot initiative soon and had retained a signature gathering firm.

The group, part of the Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform, said it has conducted a series of public meetings in the state over the past two years and consulted with policy makers and other groups on the initiative. It has not yet released the text of the proposed initiative. Group members could not be reached for comment Wednesday morning.

The blue-ribbon panel report can be found at www.SafeandSmartPolicy.org.

(News Roundup Via Bay City News)