October 22, 2019

Ventura Film Fest remembers Sally Davis, celebrity journalist

The Ventura Jewish Film Festival, opening March 9, will range across the Jewish world, from Ireland to Israel, and, in time, from the 19th century to the present.

Now marking its 10th anniversary, the festival has become a popular weekend destination for many Angelenos. This year, the film fest is dedicated to the life and memory of Ventura resident Sally Davis, an internationally known broadcaster and journalist, as well as a founder of the festival, who died last December at 71.

Davis grew up in Northern Ireland and, appropriately, the festival’s closing presentation on March 17, St. Patrick’s Day, will be “Shalom Ireland,” which chronicles the rich contributions of Jews to the country.

The kickoff event will be the March 9 opening night screening at 7 p.m. of “Hava Nagila” at the Regency Buena Ventura 6 Theatre in Ventura. The documentary depicts how the vibrant and universally popular song started in the Ukraine as a wordless Chassidic melody some150 years ago, before becoming a staple at every bar or bat mitzvah and wedding.

In more recent times, “Hava Nagila” has been performed by hundreds of ethnically diversified artists, from Harry Belafonte and Julie Andrews to Itzhak Perlman. A Q&A with producer Sophie Sartain will follow the film.

“55 Socks,” a short animated film by Oscar winning director Co Hoedeman, based on a poem by Marie Jacobs, will lead off a double feature on Sunday, March 10 at 4 p.m. at the Plaza Stadium Cinema 14 in Oxnard.

It will be followed by “Besa: The Promise,” which tells the little-known history of Albanian Muslims who saved many of their Jewish countrymen during the Holocaust. Producer Christine Romero will speak at a post-dinner reception.

On Tuesday, March 12, “Orchestra of Exiles” will screen at Oxnard’s Plaza Stadium Cinema 14, starting at 7 p.m. The film tells the dramatic story of the great Polish violinist Bronislaw Huberman, who rescued some of Europe’s greatest musicians from Nazi persecution and established a world-class symphony orchestra in then mostly barren Palestine.

Danielle Spivak, West Coast representative of the American Friends of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, will comment on the film.

Another double feature is set for Thursday, March 14, starting at 7 p.m. at the Roxy Stadium 11 Theaters in Camarillo. Leading off is “Through the Eye of the Needle,” which focuses on the amazing needlework of a woman, who escaped from the Nazis by posing as a Polish farm girl, and later created 36 panels of fabric recounting her experiences. Director/writer Nina Perl will be the speaker.

Following will be “Violins in Wartime,” a documentary about an Israeli father and son who repair damaged violins and run a master class for young violinists while the second Lebanon War of 2006 rages nearby. Producer Ravit Markus will speak.

“Simon and the Oaks” will be featured on Saturday, March 16, at the Regency Buenaventura 6 Theatre in Ventura, starting at 7 p.m. The drama depicts the friendship over 15 years between two boys grown into men, one from a Swedish working class background, the other from an intellectual Jewish refugee family.

The closing presentation on Sunday, March 17, starting at 12 noons at Temple Beth Torah in Ventura, will be “Shalom Ireland.” Introducing the film will be Ivor Davis, a former columnist for the New York Times and the Los Angeles Magazine, who collaborated with his wife Sally on numerous articles for the Jewish Journal and other publications.

In recalling his wife’s career and her contributions to the Jewish communities on two continents, Ivor Davis said that after graduating from Queens University in Belfast, she became the youngest anchor ever on the nightly BBC-TV news program in Northern Ireland.

After the young couple moved to California in 1967, Sally Davis became a correspondent for BBC television and an entertainment writer for magazines and newspapers around the world.

She became well-known for her celebrity interviews with the likes of Ronald Reagan, the Beatles, Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire for the New York Times Magazine, London Sunday Times and Los Angeles Magazine.

For more than three decades she was a member of Ventura’s Temple Beth Torah, while also serving on the board of the Ventura Music Festival and of Planned Parenthood of Ventura and Santa Barbara counties.

“Sally was a driving force in getting our Jewish Film Festival off the ground,” noted Bobbi Swerdin, the festival’s chair and co-founder. “She was a sensitive and astute critic of movies and helped put us on the road to bringing dozens of world-class movies to Ventura County. Since then our festival has gone from strength to strength.”

For ticket and other information on the film festival, visit