The 2016 JFilm Festival will present the Pittsburgh premieres of 21 films representing Jewish culture around the world. The festivities begin on April 7th with an opening night event dedicated to the documentary Norman Lear: Just Another Version Of You. The festival will close on April 17th with a screening of Natalie Portman‘s directorial debut A Tale of Love and Darkness. The festival will also include film-related talks, food presentations, and special guest appearances. See the JFilm schedule and details below:
Norman Lear: Just Another Version Of You
From Archie Bunker to George Jefferson, Norman Lear created television’s most iconic characters of the 1970s; yet none are more memorable than Lear himself. Now in his 90s, Lear candidly reflects on his life growing up as a poor Jewish kid, his career creating provocative sitcom hits, and his later years as an activist for social equality –using laughter every step of the way. Featuring interviews with George Clooney, Amy Poehler, Rob Reiner, and others, this film tells the entertaining, nostalgic, and insightful story of one of America’s most influential figures.
The latest film from director Atom Egoyan tells the story of Zev Guttman (Academy Award winner Christopher Plummer), a 90-year-old struggling with memory loss, who receives a mysterious package from his close friend Max (Academy Award winner Martin Landau), containing a stack of money and a letter detailing a shocking plan. Both Zev and Max were prisoners in Auschwitz, and the same sadistic guard was responsible for the death of both their families—a guard who, after the war, escaped Germany and has since been living in the U.S. under an assumed identity. Max is wheelchair-bound but in full command of his mental faculties; with his guidance, Zev will embark on a cross-continental road-trip to finally bring justice to the man who destroyed both their lives. Remember will screen at 5:30 p.m. in the Manor Theatre.
Frank vs. God
God has been tough on David Frank (Henry Ian Cusick). Devastated by the recent loss of his wife and a tornado that ruins his house and takes his beloved dog, Frank is fed up with these “acts of God,” and—as any good lawyer would do—serves God his papers. This delightful film brings levity to the heaviest questions of faith and spirituality as Frank calls on representatives of the world’s religions to help defend God’s actions. Frank vs. God will screen at 4:45 p.m. at the Manor Theatre.
A down-on-his-luck detective reluctantly accepts a case that revolves around the mysterious murder of an 80-year-old man found with multiple stab wounds in a river. Moving between past and present, Fire Birds envelopes us in the man’s world of loneliness, desire and rejection. Starring the legendary Gila Almagor with a turn by Miriam Zohar as an aging cabaret singer who still has her pipes, Fire Birds mixes intrigue with humor, romance and melancholy. Fire Birds will screen at 7 p.m. at the Manor Theatre.
How did the Louvre survive the Nazi occupation of Paris during World War II while the rest of Europe was destroyed? In this docudrama, famed Russian director and auteur Alexander Sokurov explores the noted museum’s precarious journey through that time by examining the relationship between the Louvre’s head, Jacques Jaujard, and German officer Count Franziskus Wolff Metternich, tasked with overseeing one of the world’s best-known collections of art treasures for the Nazi conquerors. Sokurov cuts between present and past in this “art” film, which is a love story to not only the Louvre itself, but to art and its impact on civilization. In French, German and Russian with subtitles. Francofonia will screen at 9:20 p.m. at the Manor Theatre.
The screening is supported in part by the Russian Film Symposium and The Center for Russian and East European Studies at the University of Pittsburgh.
Peter the 3rd
Growing old is not easy, but when a group of lifelong friends meet each day in a coffee shop to solve the world’s problems and laugh at each other’s foibles, they find the support they need to get by. In pursuit of a better pension, one of the friends, Peter, decides to run for the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) with the help of the feisty—and much younger—waitress, Alona. Gathering signatures for his newly formed Widows and Widowers Party, Peter and Alona develop an unlikely friendship that reveals that loneliness and unrealized dreams can hinder us all—at any age. In Hebrew with subtitles. Peter the 3rd will screen at 2 p.m. in the Manor Theatre.
The Three Hikers
An innocent hike through Northern Iraqi territory turns into a 2+ year international incident when three American civilians mistakenly cross into Iran. This documentary chronicles the fate of those three—Sarah Shourd, Shane Bauer and Joshua Fattal, son of an Israeli citizen—as they are first captured and then imprisoned for what seems like an indeterminate amount of time. Falsely charged with spying, the three hikers endure inhumane conditions, trumped up charges and the American government’s apparent disinterest in their circumstances. Working almost exclusively from interviews with the three captives, director Natalie Avital tells the story of their imprisonment, the impact on their families back home and the ramifications of the Iranian action on American-Iranian relations. The Three Hikers will screen at 3:45 p.m. in the Manor Theatre.
A conversation with hiker Joshua Fattal will follow. The film is shown in collaboration with the World Affairs Council.
A Grain of Truth
Polish Academy Award-winning actor Robert Więckiewicz plays Teodor Szacki, a maverick prosecutor who digs deep into Poland’s anti-Semitic past in this stylish detective thriller. Set in southeast Poland, the newly arrived Szacki is met with suspicion by the close-knit community when he is enlisted to solve a string of murders gripping the small town. As the killer remains on the run, tempers flare and rumors run rampant among some of the locals who believe that these are ritual killings by Jews. In Polish with subtitles. A Grain of Truth will screen at 7 p.m. in the Manor Theatre.
Guests are welcome to join Film Schmooze after the screening. The film is shown in collaboration with Three Rivers Film Festival.
Thrown together at Auschwitz, three friends reconnect 15 years after their release at a sunny resort in the north of France. Overcome with both good and bad memories, the women open up about their lives as their noble attempt at forging ahead ebbs and flows like the nearby seaside. Based on his own mother’s story, director Jean-Jacques Zilbermann lovingly portrays the women, as well as the men in their lives, as flawed but real people. In French with subtitles. To Life will screen at 5 p.m. in the Manor Theatre.
Guests are welcome to join Film Schmooze after the screening.
Baba Joon is a story about fathers and sons set in a Persian-immigrant farming community in the Negev during the early 1980s. Yitzhak (Navid Negahban) runs the turkey farm that his father built after emigrating from Iran to Israel. Now it is time to teach his son, Moti, the family business, but the 13-year-old is not interested and would rather build and fix things. The struggle escalates when Yitzhak’s absent brother visits from America, giving Moti the courage to stand up for himself. In Farsi and Hebrew with subtitles. Baba Joon will screen at 7 p.m. in Carmike 10 – South Hills Village.
This screening is supported in part by the South Hills Community Engagement
Since the 1990s, the Israel Football League has been adding teams and players while battling more popular sports like soccer and basketball for attention. With a recent infusion of funds from the Kraft Family (owners of the New England Patriots), the League has grown steadily. Touchdown Israel appeals to everyone who loves Israel (if not football) and shows how the gridiron sport is bringing diverse communities together in the Holy Land. In English and Hebrew with subtitles. Touchdown Israel will screen at 7:15 p.m. in the Manor Theatre.
A conversation with former Pittsburgh Steeler Chris Hoke.will follow. The screening is supported in part by the Zionist Organization of America-Pittsburgh District.
Raise the Roof
With only a few black and white photographs to guide them, an international team of artists embark on the ambitious endeavor to reconstruct one of the world’s greatest wooden synagogues, built in Gwozdziec, Poland during the 18th century. Its distinct architecture inspired over 200 synagogues that dotted the Polish countryside for more than two centuries, until Nazis burned them to the ground during World War II. Teaching artists Rick and Laura Brown discover the history of these architectural marvels and set out to rebuild the landmark Gwozdziec synagogue using only hand tools, artisanal techniques, and the skills and labor of over 300 volunteers. After ten years this improbable dream is realized, and Poland is once again home to this great synagogue of the past. In English and Polish with subtitles. Raise the Roof will screen at 5:30 p.m. in the Manor Theatre.
Guests are welcome to join Film Schmooze after the screening. The screening is shown in In collaboration with the Polish Cultural Council of Pittsburgh.
The Kind Words
In the wake of their mother’s death, three Israeli siblings have reason to doubt the identity of their father, leading them to embark on a journey in search of a mysterious Muslim man from their mother’s past. The discovery of their mother’s deep secrets affects each one in different ways, but it is the sister, Donora, who seems to bear the most pain as she yearns to be a mother herself with husband Ricky (played by Tsahi Halevi of the 2015 film Bethlehem). The latest box-office hit from Israeli writer director Shemi Zarhin uses wry humor and relatable characters to reflect on parenthood, love and identity in our modern world. In French and Hebrew with subtitles. The Kind Words will screen at 7:30 p.m. in the Manor Theatre.
The Midnight Orchestra
Like many Jews who fled Morocco during the rising racial tension spurred by the Yom Kippur War, Michael Abitbol left Casablanca as a child and never looked back. Estranged from his father, a once famous Jewish musician, Michael reluctantly returns to his boyhood home years later. With the help of a comical Muslim cab driver and the eccentric members of his father’s former orchestra, the legacy of his father is revealed to him along with a story of his past that was long ago buried. In Arabic, English & French with subtitles. The Midnight Orchestra will screen at 5 p.m. in the Manor Theatre.
Frank vs God will screen at 7 p.m. in Carmike 10 – South Hills Village. The screening is supported in part by the South Hills Community Engagement Initiative.
In Search of Israeli Cuisine
Join the Israeli-born, Pittsburgh-raised chef Michael Solomonov as he travels throughout Israel feeding his curiosity and appetite for the diverse foods of his native country. Solomonov’s journey reaffirms that Israeli cuisine is a beautiful and delicious reflection of the country’s unique diversity. Exhilarated by the eclectic melding of traditions and tastes, he’s sure to return to his trendy Philadelphia restaurant Zahav inspired by what he’s learned. In Search of Israeli Cuisine will screen at 7:30 p.m. in the Manor Theatre.
A conversation with Chef Michael Solomonov will follow.
Fire Birds will screen at 4:30 p.m. at the Manor Theatre.
Legendary Sephardic composer and musician Flory Jagoda delights contemporary audiences with ancestral songs and lyrics that stretch back centuries. Born in Sarajevo to a musical family, Flory became the family’s only Holocaust survivor. She now shares with the world the songs that were lovingly passed on to her before World War II,bringing to life a part of Sephardic Jewish culture that is seldom still heard. This film weaves Flory’s compelling personal story, warmly told by Flory and her family, with selections from her highly acclaimed concert at the Library of Congress in 2014. In Croatian, English and Ladino with subtitles. Flory’s Flame will screen at 7 p.m. in the Rodef Shalom Congregation.
A post-screening performance by Jagoda and her band will follow. Special ticket prices apply.
Frank vs. God will screen at 7 p.m. in the Seton Hill University Performing Arts Center. The screening is supported in part by Seton Hill University’s National Catholic Center for Holocaust Education.
The Israel/Iran nuclear conflict takes center stage in this hilarious farce by the director of Israel’s cult hit, Operation Grandma. On a small army base in the Israeli desert, two teens accidentally come across secret codes that could blow up the world, specifically Iran, where their Facebook friend lives. The film boasts a wild cast of characters including an eye-patched commander, a widowed activist who sells falafel from a food truck and an allergic German nuclear inspector (Alexander Fehling) who breaks out in hives around enriched uranium, as well as a catchy soundtrack including indie rock, Iranian rap and folk tunes. With verbal and visual humor that holds nothing sacred, be prepared to hold your belly. In English, Farsi and Hebrew with subtitles. Atomic Falafel will screen at 7:30 p.m. in the Manor Theatre.
The screening is supported in part by the Film Studies Program at the University of Pittsburgh.
Frank vs. God will screen at 5:30 p.m. at the Manor Theatre.
Peter the 3rd will screen at 5 p.m. in the Manor Theatre.
Baba Joon will screen at 7 p.m. in the Manor Theatre.
Presenting Princess Shaw
An internet sensation who goes by the name Kutiman is an experimental composer living in Israel who creates video mash ups from clips he finds on YouTube. He discovers Samantha Montgomery, a soulful singer in New Orleans, who cares for the elderly by day and becomes her alter ego—Princess Shaw—by night, performing at open mics and uploading her songs to the internet in hopes of being discovered. A star is born in this crowd-pleasing documentary, which also examines loneliness, anonymity and connectivity in the Internet age, where showbiz dreams remain but a mouse-click away for the lucky and talented few. In English and Hebrew with subtitles. Presenting Princess Shaw will screen at 9 p.m. in the Manor Theatre.
The screening is presented in collaboration with Repair the World and the Young Adult Division of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh.
Plastic Man: The Artful Life of Jerry Ross Barrish
Years before DIY and working with recyclables became the rage, Jerry Barrish started collecting discarded plastic and repurposing it into sculptures. Now retired from 50+ years as a bail bondsman, the gruff sculptor focuses entirely on his whimsical, evocative art. Plastic Man: The Artful Life of Jerry Ross Barrish will screen at 12:30 p.m. in the Manor Theatre.
Barrish and producer Janis Plotkin will join local artists Clayton Merrell and Carin Mincemoyer for a conversation after the screening. In addition, artists from I Made It! Market will sell goods made with reused and recycled materials in the lobby.
Flory’s Flame will screen at 3 p.m. in the Manor Theatre.
Cartoonists: Foot Soldiers of Democracy
Last year’s attack on cartoonists at France’s satirical journal, Charlie Hebdo, proved that cartoons can provoke powerful responses. Featuring 12 talented cartoonists from the far reaches of the globe, including a Belgian-Israeli cartoonist and one from Palestine, this compelling documentary draws on the power of political cartooning—and the unusual artists who inhabit this world. The film includes footage from cartoonists who practice under extreme censorship, risking their lives to defend democracy and practice their craft, and proving that cartooning is a resilient and universally provocative form of art. In Arabic, Danish, English and French with subtitles. Cartoonists: Foot Soldiers of Democracy will screen at 4:30 p.m. in the Manor Theatre.
A conversation with Rob Rogers, editorial cartoonist at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, will follow. The screening is presented in collaboration with the ToonSeum.
A Tale of Love and Darkness
Academy Award-winning actor Natalie Portman makes her writing and directing debut in this stunning adaptation of the highly acclaimed memoir by Israeli author Amos Oz. Told through the eyes of the young Amos, the story revolves around his troubled yet adoring mother who was raised in privilege in her native Poland, but struggles to adjust to her life as a poor newcomer in the fledgling nation of Israel. In Hebrew with subtitles. A Tale of Love and Darkness will screen at 7:15 p.m. in the Manor Theatre.
Tickets are available for purchase at the JFilm Festival website. Advance tickets for the opening night film and reception cost $65, $18 for full-time students (26 and under) if purchased by or before 12 p.m. on April 1st. Regular tickets cost $80 online or at the door.
Tickets for all other screenings cost $10 in advance, $12 at the door. Youth (18 and under) tickets cost $5 in advance, $6 at the door. Advance tickets for groups of 12 or more cost $8 each. $15 limited reserved seats are also available for purchase. Late seating may be reserved for those observing Shabbat by calling (412) 992-5203.
Tickets for the Flory’s Flame concert event cost $15 in advance, $17 at the door.