For 20 years, the JFilm Festival has celebrated Jewish culture by bringing a number of movies and guest artists to Pittsburgh. This year, from April 11th to April 21st, the event celebrates film and music with a selection of works screened at various venues throughout the city.
April 11th – Paris-Manhattan
The debut feature from writer/director Sophie Lellouche follows an idealistic pharmacist named Alice (Alice Taglioni), who is totally obsessed with the movies of Woody Allen. She continually quotes lines from his films, engages in imaginary conversations, and even prescribes her customers his classic works to help alleviate their ailments; it’s little wonder she’s still single in her thirties! Alice’s increasingly concerned Jewish parents hope to cure her fixation by setting her up with a handsome French gentleman (Patrick Bruel), but even he quickly realizes that he’s no match for the man of her dreams. In French with English subtitles. In addition to opening night, there will be a repeat showing at 5:45 p.m. on April 18th at the Manor Theatre.
This documentary tells the remarkable story of a 1731 Stradivarius violin once owned by Israeli Philharmonic founder Bronislaw Huberman. Stolen in 1936 while Huberman played Carnegie Hall, it remained lost for nearly 50 years but was rediscovered in 1985 covered with shoe polish. The instrument was purchased by American virtuoso Joshua Bell, who will appear at a Q&A moderated by Sally Kalson, JFilm chair and Post-Gazette columnist. Movie screens in English, Polish, Hebrew with English subtitles. Showtime is 11 a.m. at the Rodef Shalom Congregation.
April 13th – A.K.A. Doc Pomus
Paralyzed with polio as a child, Brooklyn-born Jerome Felder reinvented himself first as a blues singer, renaming himself Doc Pomus, then emerged as a one of the most brilliant songwriters of the early rock and roll era, writing “Save the Last Dance for Me,” “This Magic Moment,” “A Teenager in Love,” “Viva Las Vegas,” and dozens of other hits. Packed with incomparable music and rare archival imagery, this documentary features interviews with Doc’s collaborators and friends, including Dr. John, Ben E. King, Joan Osborne, Shawn Colvin, Dion, and B.B. King. Showtime is 7 p.m. at the Manor.
Out in the Dark
Nimer, a Palestinian student and dedicated son, dreams of studying abroad and of a better life. One fateful night he meets Roy, an Israeli lawyer, and the two fall in love. As their relationship deepens, Nimer is confronted with the harsh realities of a Palestinian society that refuses to accept him for his sexual identity, and an Israeli society that rejects him for his Palestinian nationality. When his close friend is caught hiding illegally in Tel Aviv and sent back to the West Bank to be brutally murdered, Nimer is sent hurling down a path of personal sacrifice and mortal danger. Now he must choose between the life he thought he wanted and his love for Roy. In Hebrew and Arabic with subtitles. Showtime is 9 p.m. on April 13th at the Manor, with a repeat at 7:30 p.m. on April 18th, when director Michael Mayer will talk.
April 14th – My Australia
This tender and humorous drama is based on filmmaker Ami Drozd‘s own experiences. In a poor neighborhood in 1960s Poland, 10-year-old Tadek and his brother are in a gang with a strong anti-Semitic bent. When they are arrested, their mother, a Holocaust survivor, has no choice but to reveal that though raised as Catholics, they are in fact Jews. Telling the younger boy they are going to Australia, the land of his fantasies, the family boards a ship to Israel. In Polish and Hebrew with subtitles. Showtime is 1 p.m. at the Manor.
Roman Polanski: A Film Memoir
Andrew Braunsberg, a producer and close friend of the Oscar-winning filmmaker since 1964, leads him through an extended conversation about his harrowing childhood, the murder of his pregnant wife, statutory rape conviction and exile, and house arrest in Switzerland. Showtime is 3:15 p.m. at the Manor.
Ameer Got His Gun
Documentary about an 18-year-old who wants to follow in the footsteps of his father and grandfather by volunteering in the Israeli military, even though he is a Muslim Arab. Arabic and Hebrew with subtitles. Showtime is 6 p.m. at the Manor. Followed by free light dinner at theater and Yom Hazikaron service at the JCC.
April 15th – Wunderkinder
Director Marcus O. Rosenmüller‘s film tells a tale of three exceptionally musically talented children, who develop a deep and genuine friendship, extending beyond their different religions and nationalities. The two Jewish children Larissa and Abrascha are both virtuosos – one on the piano and the other on the violin. Hanna, a young German girl, is also extremely gifted. Living in Poltava/Ukraine in 1941, they all share one great love: music. But when the Nazis invade the Soviet Union, they and their families face mortal peril. Due to the insanity of grown-ups at home and abroad, their world is turned upside down, and they are suddenly no longer allowed to be friends. In German with subtitles. Recommended for ages 13 and older. Showtime is 7 p.m. at the Hollywood Theater, with a discussion to follow.
Fill the Void
Filmmaker Rama Burstein tells the story of an Orthodox Hassidic family from Tel Aviv. Eighteen-year-old Shira, the youngest daughter of the family, is about to be married off to a promising young man of the same age and background. But her wedding is postponed when her older sister, Esther, dies during childbirth. When Shira’s mother finds out that Yochay-Esther’s late husband- may remarry and move to Belgium with her only grandchild, she proposes a match between Shira and the widower. Shira will have to choose between her heart’s wish and her family duty. In Hebrew with subtitles. Showtime is 7:30 p.m. at the Manor.
April 16th – Sonny Boy
Love story, based on true events, between a Dutch divorced mother of four and a much younger Afro-Caribbean student who encounter prejudice, opposition and the devastation of World War II. In Dutch with subtitles. Showtime is 7 p.m. at Seton Hill‘s Reeves Auditorium.
Ballad of the Weeping Spring
Torn apart by tragedy, a legendary band reunites to play an emotional final concert in this stylized homage to Spaghetti Westerns and samurai epic shot entirely in Israel. In Hebrew with subtitles. Showtime is 7:30 p.m. at the Manor.
April 17th – Defiant Requiem
Actress Bebe Neuwirth narrates this documentary about the little-known story of the Nazi concentration camp, Terezin. Led by imprisoned conductor Rafael Schächter, the inmates of Terezin fought back with art and music. Through hunger, disease and slave labor, the Jewish inmates of Terezin hold onto their humanity by staging plays, composing opera and using paper and ink to record the horrors around them.This creative rebellion reaches its peak when Schächter teaches a choir of 150 inmates one of the world’s most difficult and powerful choral works, Verdi’s Requiem, re-imagined as a condemnation of the Nazis. The choir would ultimately confront the Nazis face to face… and sing to them what they dare not say. Showtime is 7 p.m. at the Manor.
A Bottle in the Gaza Sea
A plea for peace, written by a French teen in Jerusalem, is slipped into a bottle and tossed into the sea. She gets an email response from a young Palestinian in an adaptation of Valerie Zenatti‘s novel. In French, Hebrew and Arabic, with subtitles. Showtime is 8 p.m. in CMU‘s McConomy Auditorium.
April 18th – Jerusalem on a Plate
Internationally-renowned chef Yotam Ottolenghi returns to his home town of Jerusalem to discover the hidden treasures of its extraordinarily rich and diverse food culture. Screening followed by a Taste of Jewish Pittsburgh with samples from local caterers. Showtime is 11 a.m. at the Manor.
April 20th – Bert Stern: The Original Mad Man
The untold and intimate life story of bad boy photographer and cultural icon Bert Stern. After working alongside Stanley Kubrick at Look Magazine, Stern became an original Madison Avenue “mad man,” his images helping to create modern advertising. Groundbreaking photos of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, Marilyn Monroe, Twiggy and the infamous Lolita image from Kubrick’s film, coupled with his astonishing success in advertising, minted Stern – along with Irving Penn and Richard Avedon – as a celebrity in his own right; indeed, Stern’s photographs of Monroe in her last sitting are considered to be the ultimate images of the 20th century icon. After marrying the stunning ballet dancer Allegra Kent, the kid from Brooklyn was sitting on top of the world…until a dramatic fall from grace. Filmmaker Shannah Laumeister uncovers Stern – from his bad boy antics (including a liaison with Monroe) to his iconic photography. Showtime is 9 p.m. at the Manor.
The Day I Saw Your Heart
Actress Mélanie Laurent (Inglourious Basterds) stars as a twenty-something struggling with commitment issues in this French comedy-melodrama. After a trail of boyfriends, Justine thinks she has found her soul mate in hunky shoe salesman (Guillaume Gouix). But her temporary happiness is thrown when her neurotic 60-year-old Jewish father (Michel Blanc) suffers a delayed midlife crisis and announces that his young second wife is expecting a baby. The film follows Justine as she attempts to deal with the looming pregnancy and the torturous route to reconciliation. In French with English subtitles. Showtime are 7 p.m. on April 20th and 4 p.m. on April 21st at the Manor.
April 21st – Hava Nagila (The Movie)
It’s to music what the bagel is to food – a Jewish staple that has transcended its origins and become a worldwide hit. Bob Dylan sang it. Elvis, too. And that’s only the beginning when it comes to Hava Nagila. Follow the infectious party song on its fascinating journey from the shtetls of Eastern Europe to the cul-de‐sacs of America in this hilarious and surprisingly deep film. Featuring interviews with Harry Belafonte, Connie Francis, Glen Campbell, Leonard Nimoy, Regina Spektor and more, the documentary takes viewers from Ukraine and Israel to the Catskills, Greenwich Village, Hollywood – and even Bollywood – using the song as a springboard to explore Jewish history and identity and to spotlight the cross-cultural connections that can only be achieved through music. Showtime is 1 p.m. at the Manor.
Auschwitz prisoners, both Jewish or non-Jewish, were tattooed with serial numbers, first on their chests and then their left arms. An estimated 400,000 numbers were tattooed in Auschwitz and its sub-camps; only some several thousand survivors are still alive today. Numbered is an explosive, highly visual, and emotionally cinematic journey, guided by testimonies and portraits of these survivors. The film documents the dark time and setting during which these tattoos were assigned as well as the meaning they took on in the years following the war. In fact, the film’s protagonist is the number itself, as it evolves and becomes both a personal and collective symbol from 1940 to today. These scars, paradoxically unanimous and anonymous, reveal themselves to be diverse, enlightening, and full of life. In Hebrew and English with subtitles. Panel discussion and dessert reception to follow. Showtime is 7 p.m. at the Manor.
Tickets for the opening day screening of Paris-Manhattan are $75. All tickets for Jerusalem on a Plate are $20. All other films are $10 general admission, $8 for groups of 12 and above (group tickets must be purchased in advance), and $5 for youths 18 and under. Tickets are available for purchase at the JFilm Festival website.