This year’s Annual Pittsburgh Jewish Israeli Film Festival’s offerings are vast and varied, with films ranging from an Academy Award nominee, to a world premiere, to a story told in claymation about an unlikely friendship.
The Festival, which begins March 4 and continues through March 24, brings films from all over the world to diverse venues throughout the city, including South Side Works Cinema, Carnegie Mellon University, and, for the first time, the August Wilson Center for African American Culture.
The variety of films this year is particularly strong, said Iris Samson, chair of the Festival.
“There is really something for everybody,” Samson said.
“This year, we notably have films from countries we usually don’t have films from,” said Kathryn Spitz Cohan, executive director of the Festival. “We have two films from Australia this year, which is rare. We also have two from the Czech Republic, and we’re showing one from Mexico. It’s exciting to have these different countries.”
Other films in this year’s line-up come from Argentina, Canada, France, Germany, Israel, the United Kingdom and the United States.
(An insert listing all the films in this year’s Festival is in this week’s Chronicle.)
One film, “Through My Eyes: Stories by Galilee Youth,” will have its world premiere at PJIFF.
“The producer [Moshe Levinson] brought together young Arabs and Jews from the Galilee, Pittsburgh’s partnership region,” said Spitz Cohan. “They met weekly, and made their own personal films, showing their footage to the group [for feedback]. The producer brought these kids together from such diverse backgrounds. It’s really an amazing project.”
Another film of note is “Ajami,” the 2009 Israeli film of the year. The Film Festival brings back “Ajami” after its sold out screening at the Jewcy Film Series in January. Nominated for a 2010 Academy Award for best foreign language film, “Ajami” is a “Crash”-like drama, said Samson, linking several apparently unrelated events into a narrative of young Arabs and Jews living in Israel.
The Festival is also screening several films lighter in mood. The Australian claymation film, “Mary and Max,” is “just adorable,” said Samson. “It’s the story of an unlikely, sweet friendship between an Australian girl, and a 44-year-old, overweight , American Jewish man with Asperger’s Syndrom.”
The Film Festival is also now “hatching” two new programs that will extend throughout the year, said Spitz Cohan.
Thanks to a national grant from the Schusterman Foundation, the Festival will host a visiting Israeli filmmaker for four months this fall, who will teach at area schools and make a film here. That film will then premiere at next year’s Film Festival. as well as at the Jerusalem International Film Festival in 2011, said Spitz Cohan.
In addition, the Film Festival will, for the first time, be holding a filmmaking competition for area high school students.
“This is a very exciting project,” said Spitz Cohan. “It will be open to all students in 9th through 12th grade, Jewish and non-Jewish.”
The kick-off meeting for the competition will be held on Sunday, March 21. The students will be asked to submit a film proposal based on a Jewish, but universal, theme. The top 20 submissions will receive written feedback from a professional filmmaker, said Spitz Cohan. Then, those 20 students whose proposals are selected will be asked to submit a second round, from which four films will be chosen to be produced, along with the help of a professional filmmaker. Those films will be premiered at the 2011 Film Festival.
The competition will be funded by the Sanford N. Robinson Endowment Fund of the United Jewish Federation.
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)