For over two decades, JFilm Festival has worked to foster a deeper understanding and appreciation of modern Jewish culture and history. From April 20-30, the event will present new films from around the world, along with complementary programming such as visiting filmmakers, guest speakers, and more. See below for highlights and details:
The 2017 JFilm Festival will present a variety of documentaries, including the Pittsburgh premiere of Take My Nose…Please. Directed by veteran journalist Joan Kron, the film looks at the role comedy has played in exposing the pressure on women to attain physical perfection. From Phyllis Diller and Joan Rivers to Roseanne Barr and Kathy Griffin, female comedians have been unashamed to talk about their perceived flaws, and the steps taken to remedy them. The film follows two women – up-and coming improv performer Emily Askin and seasoned headliner Jackie Hoffman – as they deliberate about going under the knife.
Also showing in the documentary category is There Are Jews Here, a film about the struggle to keep small-town synagogues open; The Last Laugh, an exploration of how comedians deal with the horrors of the Holocaust and World War II; and On the Map, a look at how, in 1977, an Israeli basketball team gave the country hope.
The festival will also present narrative films such as The Exception. Filled with espionage and romance, the star-studded World War II thriller features Jai Courtney as a German soldier on a mission to investigate exiled German Monarch Kaiser Wilhelm II (Christopher Plummer). As he begins to infiltrate the Kaiser’s life in search of clues, he finds himself drawn into an unexpected and passionate romance with one of the Kaiser’s maids (Lily James of Downton Abbey) who is secretly Jewish. Their relationship becomes even more complicated when SS leader Heinrich Himmler (Eddie Marsan) suddenly shows up with a large platoon of Nazis in tow.
Other narrative selections include The Jews, a dark satire about anti-Semitism in France; Fanny’s Journey, a WWII-era tale about a 13-year-old girl on the run from the Nazis; and Family Commitment, a screwball comedy about an Arab-Jewish gay couple and their dysfunctional families.
From October 20th through November 2nd, the FISA Foundation and JFilm co-present the fourth annual ReelAbilities Film Festival, an event showcasing films about the lives, stories, and artistic expression of people with different disabilities. The lineup includes previews and Pittsburgh premieres, as well as a shorts program featuring several works from around the world. There will also be post-screening talks, presentations, and receptions. See schedule and details below:
Follow a diverse community of artists from Zeno Mountain Farm who come together year after year to make a Hollywood movie, find friendship and grow as actors and individuals, regardless of their ability. This refreshingly genuine and endearing film-within-a-film reveals a dynamic, inclusive world that transcends stigmas and challenges stereotypes, while raising important questions about the lack of artistic opportunities for people with disabilities.
Followed by a conversation with AJ Murray, an actor living with cerebral palsy, and Will Halby, co-founder and director of Zeno Mountain Farm.
Margarita with a Straw
An aspiring young writer with cerebral palsy leaves her home in India to attend New York University. After a chance encounter with a fiery female activist, she begins to explore this uncharted world and its liberal sexualities. Based on the true story of a young Punjabi woman, Margarita with a Straw is a unique coming-of-age story about love, identity, and sexuality.
This screening is presented in collaboration with Reel Q.
A misdiagnosis as a child gave Gabe Weil a new, longer life expectancy and the unexpected gift of time. Empowered to now think about a future that he never thought he would have, Gabe embraces his passions, deepens his friendships, and finds joy in each day as he continues to manage an ongoing disability. This honest and insightful documentary reminds us all to value the time we are given no matter what our challenges.
Followed by a conversation with the film’s director Luke Terrell.
Since the Fair Labor Standards Act passed in 1938, American workers have been free from labor exploitation, with one exception: people with disabilities. In 2016, nearly 250,000 people with disabilities continue to earn less than the minimum wage. Through personal stories and poignant interviews, this eye-opening documentary exposes this practice while presenting new employment alternatives with competitive wages and community inclusion for workers of all abilities.
Followed by a panel discussion with local stakeholders moderated by Halle Stockton, managing editor of Public Source.
ReelAbilities Shorts Program
Seven short films totaling 70 minutes highlight diverse themes across the ability spectrum. Includes Autism in Love, I Don’t Care, Macropolis, Midfield, Perfect, Strings and Welcome to the Last Bookstore.
Followed by a conversation with emerging filmmakers from Pittsburgh’s Joey Travolta Film Camp.
Thank You For Your Service
The U.S. military faces an unprecedented mental health crisis as veterans returning to civilian life find themselves unequipped to manage the post-traumatic stress and depression that is leading to veteran suicides at an alarming rate. With candid interviews including those from Defense Secretary Robert Gates and General David Petraeus, the film reveals how current policies of the U.S. military are falling short of the critical mental health needs of our veterans.
Followed by a conversation with the film’s director, Tom Donahue, film subjects Dr. Mark Russell and Phil Straub, and Dr. Rory Cooper, founding director of the Human Engineering Research Laboratories, a VA Rehabilitation R&D Center of Excellence.
All screenings will be followed by receptions including vegan, kosher and gluten-free options. There will also be an art exhibit featuring works from Reinventing the Wheel, a photography project that paired twenty-one people with spinal cord injury with 21 photographers from cities nationwide to create photo essays through a realistic, positive and creative lens.
All films and programs will take place at Rodef Shalom. General admission is $12 in advance, $15 at the door, $8 for students under age 26 with valid ID. There are also special group rates and discounts. Tickets are available online or at the door if not sold out.
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.
Kizumonogatari Part 1: Tekketsu – Hollywood Theater
The Hollywood Theater will present an exclusive, one-time screening of the anime film Kizumonogatari Part 1: Tekketsu. The first chapter in a three-part film series follows the protagonist Koyomi Araragi and his encounter with the horrifying vampire, Kiss-shot Acerola-orion Heart-under-blade A.K.A. the “King of Apparitions.” Koyomi saves Kiss-shot who was fatally wounded by offering his blood to her in exchange for his own life as a human. The screening will take place at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $12 and are available for purchase at Showclix.
Rosenwald – Kelly Strayhorn Theater
JFilm and the Kelly Strayhorn Theater will present the Pittsburgh premiere of Rosenwald. The documentary from director Aviva Kempner tells the story of Julius Rosenwald, who never finished high school, but rose to become the President of Sears. Influenced by the writings of the educator Booker T. Washington, and inspired by the Jewish ideals of tzedakah (charity) and tikkun olam (repairing the world), this Jewish philanthropist joined forces with African American communities during the Jim Crow South to build over 5,300 schools during the early part of the 20th century. The screening will take place at 7:30 p.m. at the Kelly Strayhorn Theater. Tickets are $5 to $10 online at the JFilm website or $12 at the door. A second screening will take place on March 6th.
The Cult of John Carpenter – Row House Cinema
Row House Cinema will celebrate writer, producer, director, composer, and all-around great filmmaker John Carpenter with a week of his most beloved works. Films include the 1986 fantasy action comedy Big Trouble In Little China, the 1981 dystopian thriller Escape From New York, the 1982 sci-fi masterpiece The Thing, and the 1988 cult hit They Live. Showtimes continue through March 10th.
HUMP! Tour – Ace Hotel
Now in its 12th year, Dan Savage‘s HUMP! Film Festival continues to provide a venue for creative amateur porn featuring a cornucopia of body sizes, shapes, ages, colors, sexualities, genders, kinks, and fetishes, all under the welcoming umbrella of sex-positivity and sexual expression. The event’s traveling program, the HUMP! Tour, returns to Pittsburgh to once again showcase a diverse selection of homemade dirty movies, this time at the newly opened Ace Hotel. The program will take place on on March 4th at 7:30 p.m. and 10 p.m. and on March 5th at 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Tickets cost $20 and are available for purchase at the HUMP! website.
Can You Dig This – Kaufmann Center
The Hill House Association recently launched 28 Days, an inaugural event series that celebrates arts and culture in the Hill District, one of the city’s oldest and most historic African American neighborhoods. On March 5th, 28 Days will present the Pittsburgh premiere of Can You Dig This, a documentary that highlights the work of four farmers in Los Angeles. The screening will take place at the Elsie H. Hillman Auditorium in the Kaufmann Center. Doors open at 1:30 p.m. followed by the film at 2 p.m. A panel discussion will follow. Due to the film’s explicit language, childcare is available. Admission is a $10 suggested donation or pay-what-you-can.
When filmmaker Kathy Leichter moved back into her childhood home after her mother’s suicide, she discovered a hidden box of audiotapes. Sixteen years passed before she had the courage to delve into this trove, unearthing details that her mother had recorded about every aspect of her life from the challenges of her marriage to a State Senator, to her son’s estrangement, to her struggles with bi-polar disorder. Here One Day is a visually arresting, emotionally candid film about a woman coping with mental illness, her relationships with her family, and the ripple effects of her suicide on those she loved.
Here One Day will screen at 7 p.m. at the Rodef Shalom Synagogue. A discussion and reception with Leichter regarding mental health and suicide, reducing stigma, and connecting with local resources for support will also take place. Tickets cost $5 to $10 and are available for purchase at the JFilm website.
From October 22nd through October 29th, the FISA Foundation and JFilm will co-present the third annual ReelAbilities Film Festival, which will showcase narrative and documentary works about the lives, stories, and artistic expression of people with different disabilities. See schedule and details below:
On Beauty (2015, USA/Kenya, English and Kikuyu, 32 minutes)
On Beauty follows former fashion photographer Rick Guidotti, who after 15 years of working for clients such as Yves Saint Laurent, Elle, and Harpers Bazaar, grew tired of seeing the same ideal of beauty “spit up at us constantly.” In a moment of serendipity, Rick walked by a young woman with Albinism (a genetic condition that results in loss of pigmentation in the hair and eyes) at a New York City bus stop, and wondered why she wasn’t considered beautiful in his other world. This exploration resulted in a show-stopping magazine spread for Life Magazine.
Screening followed by a conversation with Guidotti.
The Case of the Three-Sided Dream (2014, USA, English, 88 minutes)
Jazz legend Rahsaan Roland Kirk was known for playing multiple instruments at once and for his comical and political interjections on stage, creating music about his experience of becoming blind as an infant. Through communicating sonically with his surroundings, Kirk developed a unique ability to see in music, as everyday items were re-imagined as instruments and each seemingly insignificant noise revealed its own rhythm and cadence. A child prodigy, adult visionary, and political activist, Kirk played music until the day he died.
Screening followed by a jazz concert with Roger Humphries, who played with Kirk in the 1970s.
Mimi and Dona (2014, USA, English, 66 minutes)
For 64 years, 92-year-old Mimi has cared for her daughter Dona, who has an intellectual disability. This poignant, heartbreaking and, at times, humorous documentary traces the process of Mimi grappling with the notion that she will not outlive her daughter. The film spotlights the challenges of aging caregivers of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and details the ripple effects it has on three generations of a Texas family.
Screening followed by a conversation with director Sophie Sartain and United Way of Allegheny County President and Chief Professional Officer, Bob Nelkin. Sponsored by the Jewish Healthcare Foundation.
Gabriel (2014, USA, English, 89 minutes)
Rory Culkin delivers an electrifying performance as Gabriel, a vulnerable and confused teenager longing for stability and happiness amidst an ongoing struggle with mental illness. Convinced that reuniting with his old girlfriend holds the answer to all his troubles, Gabriel risks it all in a desperate and increasingly obsessive pursuit, testing the limits of his compassionate family as his inner demons begin to close in around him.
Screening followed by a conversation with director Lou Howe, Dr. Ken Thompson, self-advocate Lee Moses, and Pittsburgh Police officer Krista Hoebel. Sponsored by the Staunton Farm Foundation.
The Finishers (2013, France/Belgium, French, 90 minutes)
At 17 years old, Julien has a great sense of humor, loads of charm, and cerebral palsy. In a bid to bond, Julien challenges his father to participate with him in the Ironman race, a triathlon in which his father has previously competed. Doing the race alone is an incredible challenge, but completing it together with Julien would be nearly impossible. Still, his father agrees and the two set out to train for and compete in one of the most intense races on earth.
Screening followed by a conversation with 2014 Paralympic Gold Medalist Dan McCoy and his father, Mark.
All screenings will take place at Rodef Shalom Congregation and include receptions offering treats with vegan, Kosher, and gluten-free options. An art exhibit featuring work by Guidotti and Pulitzer prize-winning photographer Martha Rial will also be displayed in the Rodef Shalom commons area during the festival. Tickets are available for purchase on the JFilm website or at the door.
In 1935, Regina Jonas made history when she became the world’s first female rabbi. On Nov. 16th, JFilm and the University of Pittsburgh Jewish Studies Program will celebrate her amazing life with a documentary screening.
Directed by Diana Groo, Regina tells the story of Regina Jonas (1902-1944), whose greatest dream was to become a rabbi. But a woman could not be a rabbi according to the laws of Jewish religion. Regina chose a calling she must struggle to attain within her own religious community and moreover in a historical period where one was lucky not to be branded as a Jew. She finds a liberal rabbi who will ordain her and hopes that henceforth she will have a place in the synagogues. But she doesn’t. It is perhaps fate’s irony that she officially receives her synagogue commissions when most of her rabbi colleagues are emigrating or being arrested. At age 37, she met the love of her life, Rabbi Josef Norden. Both of them were deported to Theresienstadt concentration camp. Only their love letters survived the Holocaust.
Since 2007, the ReelAbilities Film Festival has set out to spotlight the lives, stories, and artistic expressions of people with disabilities. Beginning Oct. 22nd, JFilm will bring the New York-based event to Pittsburgh, and with it four documentary and narrative stories about the challenges people face everyday. See schedule and film descriptions below:
From the early days of silent films to present day, from Chaplin to X-Men,disability portrayals are ever changing. This dynamic documentary takes a detailed look at the evolution of “disability” in entertainment by going behind the scenes to interview filmmakers, studio executives, film historians, and celebrities, and by utilizing vivid clips from Hollywood’s most beloved motion pictures and television programs to focus attention on the powerful impact that the media can have on society. CinemAbility screens at 7 p.m. at Rodef Shalom Congregation.
Touch of the Light
Blind pianist Huang Yu-Siang plays himself in this Taiwanese Oscar-contender about a blind piano prodigy from rural Taiwan and his relationship with Xiao Jie (Sandrine Pinna), a young woman who dreams of becoming a dancer despite enormous challenges. In Taiwanese with English subtitles. Touch of the Light screens at 1 p.m. at the Human Engineering Research Laboratories (HERL) in Bakery Square.
Come As You Are
Three guys in their twenties love wine and women but they are still virgins. Under the guise of a wine tour they embark on a journey to Spain hoping to have their first sexual experience. Josef is blind, Philip is paralyzed from the neck down, and Lars is in a wheelchair with a brain tumor, but they’re not going to let anything stand in their way. Come As You Are screens at 7:30 p.m. at Rodef Shalom Congregation.
Stand Clear of the Closing Doors
When Ricky, a 13-year-old Mexican-American boy with autism, runs away from his immigrant family on the fringes of New York City, he embarks on an odyssey that forces his splintered family to reconcile their differences. Stand Clear of the Closing Doors screens at 7 p.m. at Rodef Shalom Congregation.
Tickets for CinemAbility are $20, $10 for students. All other films are $10, $5 for students. Tickets are available for purchase on the JFilm website.
While doing research for his book The Heavens Are Empty: Discovering the Lost Town of Trochenbrod, author Avrom Bendavid-Val was determined to preserve the history of the place where his father was born. Once a thriving Jewish settlement, traces of Trochenbrod had all but disappeared seven decades after the Nazis massacred the population and left only a handful of survivors. As a companion to his book, Bendavid-Val’s also participated in the documentary Lost Town, which follows his journey of discovery. On Jan. 22nd, JFilm and the University of Pittsburgh Jewish Studies Program will present a special screening of the film at Rodef Shalom Congregation.
Directed by Jeremy Goldscheider and Richard Goldgewicht, Lost Town tells the story of one man’s obsessive search to get closer to his deceased father by uncovering the story of his family’s town of Trochenbrod. First made famous by Jonathan Safran Foer‘s Everything Is Illuminated, Trochenbrod was the only all-Jewish town to ever exist outside of Palestine. Trochenbrod’s 5,000 Jews were obliterated by the Nazis, except for 33 townspeople who escaped the massacre there. This personal search triggers a resurgence of interest in the town and reconnects the few remaining survivors who hadn’t seen each other in over 60 years. Lost Town utilizes contemporary documentary footage, original animation, and survivor testimonials to tell the story of how far some will go to claim their sense of identity.
Lost Town begins at 7 p.m. The event will also feature a dessert reception and post-screening Q&A with Bendavid-Val. Admission is $10, $5 for students (full-time, 26 and under). Tickets are available for purchase at Eventbrite.