This year’s Pittsburgh Jewish Israeli Film Festival opens with an act of treason.
OK, not really. But the opening night movie on Thursday, March 12, 7 p.m., at SouthSide Works Cinema is “The Little Traitor,” a film adaptation of the novel “Panther in the Basement” by Amos Oz.
And it headlines a festival replete with 24 movies and documentaries as well as seven shorts screened together on one night, called Quick Flicks, to make up the 25th presentation of the season.
And there are some new features this year.
“We’re showing a television series from Israel, which we’ve never done before,” said Kathryn Spitz Cohan, executive director of the film festival. “We’re doing the shorts program, which I always wanted to do, but never had the time to implement it, and I had a lot of help this year from an Israeli Ph.D. student whose on my young adult advisory committee.
That committee is working on an extension of the film festival, the Jewcy Film Series for move-goers ages 20 to 30. That series begins March 1.
“The Little Traitor” is the story of an 11-year-old boy named Proffy living in 1947 Palestine, just months before Israeli independence. Proffy is plotting a fanciful attack against the British with his two best friends when a British officer captures him for violating curfew. The officer lets Proffy go and a friendship develops between the two even as Proffy’s neighbors question his loyalty. Alfred Molina (“Spider Man 2,” “The DaVinci Code,” and “Chocolat”) plays the British officer.
Spitz Cohan said “The Little Traiter” was the clear choice of her committee to be this year’s opening night film.
“I heard about it in December when I was in Israel for the Jerusalem Film Festival,” Spitz-Cohan said. “Amos Oz, Alfred Molina, it doesn’t get much better than that. I was excited to see it.”
This year’s festival, which runs from March 12 to 29, also boasts other first-time attractions.
On two nights, March 13 and 27, both at 11 a.m., festival officials will present “For Crying Out Loud — Screenings for Parents with Babies” at SouthSide Works Cinema.
Most of the screenings will be at SouthSide Works, but others will be held at the Galleria in Mt. Lebanon, the Katz Performing Arts Center in Squirrel Hill, the Carmike in Cranberry Township, the Carmike 15 in Greensburg and McConomy Auditorium at Carnegie Mellon University.
Among the film sponsors this year are the United Jewish Federation, the Jewish Healthcare Foundation, the Holocaust Center of the UJF, the National Catholic Center for Holocaust Education at Seton Hill University, Carnegie Mellon University’s Israel on Campus, PNC Park and the Pittsburgh Pirates, Pittsburgh Filmmakers and the Three Rivers Film Festival.
If this year’s film lineup seems to have more movies than documentaries, you’re right.
“People in this economy really want to be entertained,” Spitz Cohan said. “I was conscious of that, and we did make the decision to show more narrative films than documentaries, although we have some real good documentaries this year.”
Here is the rest of this year’s film lineup:
The Debt (Israel) — Three young Mossad agents who capture a wanted Nazi war criminal and plan to return him to Israel to stand trial. The operation goes awry, 93 minutes.
About Yossi (Israel) — Left severely disabled by a defective vaccine he received as a baby, Yossi, now 30, lives with the help, love and devotion of his family, 53 minutes.
Reaching Hedva (Israel) — The filmmaker revisits the traumatic moment in his youth when he was forced to acknowledge the reality of his physical disability, 23 minutes.
A Touch Away (Israel) — In this hit Israeli television drama a secular Russian family unknowingly moves into an Orthodox neighborhood in Tel Aviv and becomes entwined with their religious next-door neighbors — eight episodes, 38 Minutes each.
Villa Jasmin (France) — On the verge of parenthood, Serge takes his wife to Tunisia, where he was born, to learn more about his family’s history, 87 minutes.
Circumcise Me (Israel) — Comedian Yisrael Campbell is serious when it comes to Judaism. He was circumcised only once, but he converted three times – first to Reform, then to Conservative and finally Orthodox. Come for the film, stay for the show, 48 minutes (Campbell will perform in person following the film).
The Deal (USA/Canada) — A down-and-out Hollywood producer (William H. Macy) gets financing for his nephew’s first script by casting an action star (LL Cool J) in the role of British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, 98 minutes.
The Wave (Germany) — A popular teacher takes his high school class on a regrettable journey that proves that the appeal of fascism remains strong, 93 minutes.
Holy Land Hardball (USA) — Follow Larry Baras and a host of other impressive characters as they attempt to build the first professional baseball league in Israel, 83 minutes.
The Secrets (Israel) — The intelligent young daughter of an ultra-Orthodox Rabbi receives permission to delay her arranged marriage in order to study at a yeshiva in the mystical northern Israeli town of Safed. While there she meets a rebellious student from France from whom she couldn’t be more different, 127 minutes.
A Secret (France) — A young boy uncovers the truth about his parents’ passionate yet guilt-ridden union, with the turmoil of World War II as the backdrop, 105 minutes.
Two Ladies (France) — A young Moroccan Arab, works as a daycare nurse for a Moroccan-born Jewish woman whose unpleasant personality leaves her (yet again) without a housekeeper. The youth suggests her devout Muslim mother as a replacement, 73 minutes.
Nymphs in the Mist (Israel) — After his girlfriend dumps Yaniv, his boneheaded best friend persuades him to “make a movie” as a guaranteed way to meet the hottest babes in Tel Aviv, 81 minutes.
Lost Islands (Israel) — Ofer and Erez, twin brothers growing up in the 80s, are forced to make hard choices concerning their dreams and family loyalty, 103 minutes.
The Gift to Stalin (Kazakhstan, Russia, Poland, Israel) — A little Jewish boy is saved and raised by an old, gruff rail worker in this touching film circa 1940s Kazakhstan. The desolate Kazakh steppes play a supporting role as director Abdrashev exposes the hardships of life under Stalin’s rule, 97 minutes.
Blessed is the Match: The Life and Death of Hannah Senesh (USA) — An illuminating film about Hannah Senesh, the brave young woman who returned to Hungary as a resistance fighter to help save her fellow Jews, 86 minutes. (Director Roberta Grossman will speak following both screenings of the film.)
Letters for Jenny (Argentina, Israel, Spain) — After Jenny loses her mother prematurely to a terminal illness, it is her mother’s letters, written prior to her passing and specified for certain times in her life that help the teenage girl along her path of self-discovery, 96 minutes.
As Seen Through These Eyes (USA) — A powerful look at the Holocaust through the artwork created by prisoners of the camps, 70 minutes. (Filmmaker Hilary Helstein will speak following the film.)
The Beetle (Israel) — The filmmaker attempts to save his beloved junker from the scrap yard before his wife gives birth to their first child, a surprisingly humorous look at impending fatherhood, 70 minutes.
Emotional Arithmetic (Canada) — Susan Sarandon plays a middle-aged woman who reunites with two fellow Holocaust survivors whom she hasn’t seen since the war, but their weekend at her country home in the Quebec unleashes suppressed memories and emotions. Christopher Plummer and Max von Sydow co-star, 99 minutes.
Two Lives, Plus One (France) — A super mom starts spending more time focusing on herself and her writing, causing her friends and family wonder what’s up, 90 minutes.
Noodle (Israel) — Last year’s Opening Night film returns for an encore performance. A flight attendant’s life is turned upside down by the captivating plight of an abandoned Chinese boy, 95 minutes.
The Case for Israel: Democracy’s Outpost (USA) — With Alan Dershowitz at the helm, The Case for Israel is a point-by-point defense of the Jewish state. A strong rebuttal to the growing criticism from the media, and academic and international communities, the film uses archival footage and compelling interviews from leading experts on both sides of the political spectrum to make the definitive case for Israel’s legitimacy and right to self-defense, 77 minutes. (A program to hone your Israel advocacy skills will follow the film.)