‘Cupcakes’ a sweet opening to this year’s JFilm Festival

‘Cupcakes’ a sweet opening to this year’s JFilm Festival

CMU graduate Seth Fisher directed “Blumenthal” and will appear after the film.
CMU graduate Seth Fisher directed “Blumenthal” and will appear after the film.

This year’s JFilm festival will open with a good laugh instead of a dark drama.

“Cupcakes,” an Israeli comedy, which garnered positive reviews from the Jerusalem Post, will be the opening night movie of the 2014 festival, Thursday, March 27, at the Manor Theatre, Squirrel Hill.

A 90-minute musical comedy, shot in Hebrew with English subtitles,

“Cupcakes” is about a tightknit group of 30-something Israelis who try to cheer up a heartbroken friend with a song, never intending it to be Israel’s entry in an international song competition.

The Jerusalem Post compared the movie to “taking an extravagant 90-minute vacation from reality.”

A reception will follow the film at the JCC, Katz Theatre. Signature cocktails and catering by Tallulah’s will be provided. Dietary laws will be observed and valet parking offered.

The movie is one of 17 narrative and documentary pictures from around the globe about Jewish life, some of which are demonstrating a new interest by Israeli filmmakers in the comedy genre.

“This year, there are more comedies from Israel than ever,” said JFilm Director Kathryn Spitz Cohan. “I don’t know really what the [reason] is, but it’s nice. Maybe they’re getting tired of all the dark and deep films.”

This year’s festival will also include the North American premiere of one film, “Farewell, Herr Schwarz,” and the return to Pittsburgh of Seth Fisher, the writer and director of the America comedy, “Blumenthal,” and a graduate of Carnegie Mellon University.

But the highlight of the festival, perhaps, will be the appearances of Linor Abargil, Miss World of 1998, who won the pageant shortly after being raped. Abargil has since become an outspoken leader in the fight against sexual violence. She will appear the same night following the screening of a documentary of her experiences, “Brave Miss World.”

This year’s festival will be condensed into 11 days, making the “festival atmosphere more exciting” Spitz Cohan said. She attributed that excitement to more activity being packed into a shorter time frame.

Specifically, she said more films than ever will have multiple screenings — a response to audience demand.

Almost all of this year’s screenings are at the Manor, with one night only at the Carmike 10 at South Hills Village, Seton Hill University in Greensburg and Rodef Shalom Congregation.

“We had a lot of really good films that didn’t make the lineup even though they could in other years,” Spitz Cohan said. “That’s exciting for us, when the review committee has so many good films to choose from. Our goal, as always, is to offer as many different perspectives as possible.”

Here’s a summary of this year’s films:

• “Bethlehem” (Israel, 100 minutes): A fast-pasted espionage thriller that follows the complex relationship between an

Israeli secret service officer and his teenage Palestinian informant (Hebrew and Arabic with subtitles).

• “Hunting Elephants” (Israel, 107 minutes): Sir Patrick Stewart (“Star Trek; The Next Generation”) stars in this comedy about a teenager, Jonathan, who tries to avenge his father’s tragic death with the help of his estranged grandfather, a former Zionist freedom fighter who is bored out of his mind in a nursing home (Hebrew and English with subtitles).

• “The German Doctor” (Argentina, 93 minutes): As a young Argentinian couple prepares to open a remote lakeside hotel in Patagonia in 1960, they meet a distinguished, yet mysterious, German physician in need of lodging. Charmed by his kindness and medical knowledge, the family is unaware that the doctor is wanted by Israel’s secret service and practicing sinister medical experiments while under their roof (Spanish, German and Hebrew with subtitles).

• “The Sturgeon Queens” (United States, 54 minutes):  Four generations of the Russ family have kept their iconic store afloat — from patriarch and founder Joel Russ, who left the store in his daughters’ hands, to the present owners, his great-grandchildren, who struggle to bring the little store into the 21st Century (English).

• “Farewell, Herr Schwarz” (Germany/Israel, 96 minutes): Filmmaker Yael Reuveny’s documentary seeks the truth about her grandmother’s brother, long believed lost in the war, much to the reticence of her family. This epic film is a stunning look at the Holocaust’s grip on three generations of a family (English, German and Hebrew with subtitles).

• “Dancing in Jaffa” (Israel, 87 minutes): As the peace process in the Middle East stalls, world champion ballroom dancer Pierre Dulaine asks us to believe for a moment that pairing Israeli and Palestinian youths together and teaching them the art of ballroom dancing may be the beginning of change (Hebrew, Arabic and English with subtitles).

Students from Dancing Classrooms Pittsburgh will perform following the film. Q & A with DCP Teaching Artists Terry and Rozana Sweeney and program facilitator Mark Rogalsky.

• “The Zigzag Kid” (Belgium/Netherlands, 95 minutes): Nono is days away from his bar mitzvah. He aspires to be a famous police inspector just like his dad, but is constantly getting into trouble. Sent away to his uncle’s to be disciplined, he meets his father’s arch rival on the train and the pair is off on an adventure that ultimately helps Nono uncover the truth about the mother he never knew (Dutch, French and English with subtitles).

• “Kidon” (Israel/France, 97 minutes): When evidence points to Mossad agents as the assassins of a Hamas leader in a Dubai hotel room, no one is more surprised than the Mossad. An internal investigation gets under way revealing a high-stakes con game involving spies, diplomats and a ring of good-hearted thieves (Hebrew and French with subtitles).

• “Aftermath” (Poland, 107 minutes): When Franek returns to his native village in Poland, after 20 years away, he finds his brother living in fear of the townspeople who have turned on him. The hushed hostility among the villagers becomes more threatening as the brothers piece together the darkest of chapters in the town’s history — a past that some will kill to keep forgotten (Polish with subtitles).

A program and reception will follow the film, which is co-sponsored by the Holocaust Center and the Polish Cultural Council.

• “The Jewish Cardinal” (France, 90 minutes): The true story of Jean-Marie Lustiger, the Jewish-born head of the French Catholic Church and advisor to Pope John Paul II. Steadfast in his dual identity as a Catholic Jew, Lustiger challenged those in the Church and beyond to find tolerance among different faiths and reverence for our common humanity (French with subtitles).

The April 1 screening is supported in part by the National Catholic Center for Holocaust Education at Seton Hill University.

• “Blumenthal” (United States, 86 minutes): A comedy about 20-something Ethan, who co-pilots his father’s journey of catharsis when his playwright uncle dies. The days that follow fill with irony, mischief and hilarity, as if they have been lifted from one of his uncle’s plays. (English)

Director and CMU graduate Seth Fisher will appear following the film.

• “When Comedy Went to School” (United States, 76 minutes): A history of the Borscht Belt’s comics who set the stage for American humor in the resorts of New York’s Catskill Mountains. Comic greats such as Jerry Lewis, Sid Caesar and Woody Allen tell their tales of where Jewish comedy got its start, weaving together a history that is distinctly Jewish, American and funny (English).

Local comedienne Barbara Russell will introduce the film.

• “Brave Miss World” (United States, 92 minutes): Weeks before Linor Abargil was crowned Miss World 1998, she was brutally raped while modeling in Italy. Years later, director Cecilia Peck follows Abargil as she finally confronts her rapist and journeys to empowerment (English, Hebrew and Italian with subtitles).

Abargil will speak following both screenings.

• “Afternoon Delight” (United States, 103 minutes): Everything looks just right in Rachel’s hip, upscale, suburban L.A. life. But when she and her husband visit a strip club to spice up their sex life, Rachel leaves determined to save a young exotic dancer only to discover her own longing for purpose and intimacy. (English with adult content).

• “Next Year Jerusalem” (United States, 72 minutes): Eight senior citizens living in a nursing home are given the opportunity to travel to Israel. The film documents the intricate planning through the journey itself, a physical and emotional challenge but, ultimately, a transformational life experience for all involved (English).

• “It Happened in St. Tropez” (France, 100 minutes): The story of two brothers — one religious, one secular — who are polar opposites in all aspects of their lives but who come together over love for their ailing father and beautiful daughters (French with subtitles).

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