JFilm, formerly known as the Pittsburgh Jewish Israeli Film Festival, has released the lineup for its 18th annual festival with a hilarious, but sympathetic movie about discovering a new identity.
The festival runs from Thursday, March 24 to Sunday, April 10.
The opening night film, “The Infidel,” a British movie, is a comedy based on the premise of a nice Muslim guy who discovers he was adopted as a child and is really the son of Jewish parents. With the help of a sarcastic taxi driver, played Richard Schiff of the long-running NBC drama “West Wing,” the new Jew dips his toe in a world that that has always been alien to him.
Twenty films are being screened at this year’s festival — a slightly smaller selection than in previous years, but more will be rescreened over the three-week program.
“It’s an interesting year,” JFilm Executive Director Kathryn Spitz Cohan said of the films. In the past, she said she could always point to four or five films that were standouts. “This year, I think all the films are really incredible.”
This year’s festival also features an extended venue list. Screenings will be held at South Side Works Cinema, Carmike 15, Greensburg; Carmike Galleria 6, Mt. Lebanon; Carnegie Mellon University, McConomy Auditorium; Cranberry Cinemas, Cranberry Township; and — for the first time this year — Point Park University, Rodef Shalom Congregation and Seton Hill University, Greensburg.
Here’s the rest of this year’s film lineup. Visit JFilmPgh.org for times and dates and call (412) 992-5203 for tickets.
• A Film Unfinished (Israel/Germany) — a true story about an unfinished Nazi film, four reels of which were discovered after the war. The silent film was an attempt to paint an idyllic picture of life within the Warsaw Ghetto, where some 440,000 Polish Jews awaited deportation.
• Ahead of Time (USA) — A documentary about Ruth Gruber, who, at age 20, became the youngest Ph.D. in the world and went on to her career as a legendary journalist covering some of the biggest stories of the 20th century, including the rise of Hitler and the opening of the Soviet Arctic.
• Amnon’s Journey (Israel) — the story of master violin maker, Amnon Weinstein, who restores violins saved from the Holocaust. In his skilled and loving hands, instruments that were played in ghettos, camps and forests are brought back to musical life, and their individual stories along with them. The film builds to a breathtaking concert in Jerusalem’s Old City on Israel’s 60th anniversary, with 16 of Amnon’s restored violins being played by orchestras from Turkey and Israel.
• Anita (Argentina) — The AMIA bombing in 1994 causes Anita to become separated from her mother (Norma Aleandro). Forced to fend for herself while walking the streets of Buenos Aires, her tenacity and innocence keep her alive and endear her to those she meets. “
• Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer (USA) — As attorney general of New York, Eliot Spitzer became famous for going after America’s biggest financial institutions and corporate executives. Then he became governor with the largest margin in state history. But fame turned to infamy when the paragon of rectitude was discovered visiting prostitutes.
• Diplomat (Israel) — A documentary about a one-time five star hotel in Jerusalem, the Hotel Diplomat, that became a temporary absorption center for hundreds of Russian Jews immigrating to Israel in the 1990s. Temporary turned into permanent as many of the 600 people stayed — even until today.
• Five Hours from Paris (Israel) — A divorced Tel Aviv cabbie finds himself falling for his son’s Russian music teacher in this entertaining look at the ups and downs of romance.
• The Human Resources Manager (France/Germany/Israel/Romania) — This quirky, funny and poignant film about a man who, through tragedy, reconnects with the best of himself was Israel’s Best Foreign Language Film entry for this year’s Oscars.
• Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story (USA) — A documentary about Jewish Americans love affair with baseball. Maybe it’s because the first professional baseball player in the mid 1800s — Lipman Pike — was Jewish, or due to the powerful bat of Hank Greenberg and the golden arm of Sandy Koufax. Jews have been involved in the sport since its beginnings, as this well crafted documentary reveals.
• The Matchmaker (Israel) — A coming of age tale about a teenager, Arik, and his relationship with Haifa’s matchmaker, Yankele Bride. Yankele, a Romanian Holocaust survivor, hires young Arik to spy on his clients and potential suitors, searching for their secrets. But the mysterious matchmaker has many of his own, as Arik soon finds out.
• The Names of Love (France) — Bahia, a young Algerian extrovert, believes in “making love, not war” and attempts to convert conservatives by sleeping with them in this saucy French romcom. When she meets Arthur Martin, a 40-something, Jewish scientist, he’s just another one of her conquests. However, the two find bonds through common tragic family histories (the Algerian War and Holocaust under Vichy), and improbably fall in love.
• Phobidilia (Israel) — Regev is an agoraphobic computer programmer who never leaves his Tel Aviv apartment. His only contact with the human world is through his landlord, an elderly Holocaust survivor, and his cat, Albert. The two dimensional world of television and the internet provide him with everything he needs, until he meets telemarketer Daniela and begins to be drawn out of his self-made prison.
• Precious Life (Israel) — The true story of a Palestinian couple who lost two infants due to complications with their immune systems who worked with Israeli doctors and a Gaza reporter to save the life of a new baby suffering similar problems. Over the course of 18 months, the reporter documented the tension, fear and hope of the family as they put their child’s life in the hands of Israeli Jews they had always seen as the enemy.
• The Round Up (France/Germany Hungary) — In the summer of 1942, the French police rounded up 13,000 Parisian Jews, including 4,000 children, under the Vichy government that collaborated with the Nazis. For the first time, this hidden chapter of French history is dramatized on screen.
• The Trotsky (Canada) — Did you hear the one about the Jewish teen who organizes a hunger strike at his father’s garment factory while his mother brings in sandwiches? That’s one of many wry twists in this quirky comedy about a geeky young man in Montreal who thinks he’s the reincarnation of Leon Trotsky, the great Russian revolutionary.
• Voices Unbound: The Story of the Freedom Writers (USA) — The Hollywood film “Freedom Writers,” starring Hillary Swank, was inspired by an amazing teacher, Erin Gruwell, and her at-risk students from an inner-city school in Long Beach, California. “Voices Unbound” documents their real stories of life on the street, drugs, gang violence and hopelessness.
• Who Do You Love (USA) — A biopic about Leonard and Phil Chess, two Polish Jewish immigrants who introduced mainstream America to blues legend Muddy Waters, and rhythm and blues artists Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley, through their Chicago nightclub and ultimately Chess Records.
• Women Unchained (USA) — After Darryle Gillman spent over a year and a half struggling to get her daughter a proper Jewish divorce, she decided to go public with her ordeal to help other women avoid a similar fate.
• The Yankles (USA) — A group of Yeshiva students form an upstart baseball team and want to join the collegiate league, but they need a coach in the worst way.
Visit <a href=http://www.jewishfederationpittsburgh.org/section.aspx?id=560JFilm for more information about this year’s festival.
(Lee Chottiner an be reached at email@example.com.)