The 11th annual Pittsburgh Jewish Israeli Film Festival opens its three-week run on Thu., March 4, with the socially conscious Israeli drama James' Journey to Jerusalem. The festival offers 16 films from Israel, Europe and North America, ranging from the comic to the dramatic, and documentary topics from relationships forged during the Holocaust to a contemporary Israeli dance company that creates works incorporating the disabled. Films will screen Thursdays through Mondays until March 21 at area theaters including Loews Waterfront, Regent Square, Destinta Bridgeville and the Denis, in Mount Lebanon. Tickets are $10 for adults, $7 for seniors and $5 for students. Six-film passes for $40 are also available. For tickets and more information, see www.pjiff.net or call 412-992-5203.
The first week's selections are as follows:
PROVENCE UNITED (Israel, 2002). In a small desert town in southern Israel, Shlomi (Itay Turgeman) dreams of stardom with Maccabi Tel Aviv. Not just because they are one of Israel's most successful soccer teams, but because his talents plus Maccabi's pull equals Outstanding Athlete status -- and an end to his compulsory army service. Shuki (Eli Altonio) dreams of his beautiful ex-wife, Hava (Osnat Hakim), whose own crush, Moti (Moshe Folkenflick), dreams of the flowering fields of Provence, a lavender-painted place worlds away from the arid desert. All Shabtai (Ze'ev Revach) wants is for Givat Tzurim's Cinderella soccer team, which he manages, to beat Maccabi in their upcoming cup game, exacting revenge for his own sporting dream's shortcomings. Provence United, directed by Ori Inbar, is Israel's contribution to two compatible formulas: the small-town escapist drama and the redemptive-power-of-the-soccer-underdog heart-warmer -- Bend It Like Shlomi. It's at its best when showing small-town Israeli life -- far from the big-city and disputed-territories Israeli scenes most Americans are used to, its desperation bored dry like the surrounding desert. But that familiarity is also Provence United's shortcoming: We've seen this film before, and the minor differences engendered by its cultural context don't make up for a plot celebrating cliché. In Hebrew with subtitles. 7:30 p.m. Sat., March 6, Loews Waterfront, and 7:30 p.m. Mon., March 8, Destinta Bridgeville (Justin Hopper)
MANHOOD (USA, 2003). This dark comedy from indie screenwriter/director Bobby Roth examines three generations of an American Jewish family in turmoil. Divorced dad Jack (Nestor Carbonell), already fumbling with raising his 13-year-old son, finds his house filling up with dysfunctional relatives, namely his irresponsible brother-in-law, Eli (John Ritter), and his disaffected teen. His neurotic sister (Janeane Garofalo) is exploring her sexuality, and Jack's widowed father is dating one of Jack's former girlfriends. Roth's script has nice moments of observed domestic humor, but he also relies on easy narrative props like the pushy therapist and the hooker with a heart of gold, and the film's downbeat ending feels decidedly false. 9:20 p.m. Sat., March 6. Loews Waterfront (Al Hoff)
THUNDER IN GUYANA (USA, 2003). In this 50-minute documentary, filmmaker Suzanne Wasserman examines the extraordinary life of her cousin, Janet Rosenberg-Jagan, a Chicago-born Jewish woman who in the late 1940s moved to British Guyana with her Indian husband, Cheddi Jagan, whom she met at university. Active members of the left, they worked to organize sugar plantation workers (mostly Africans and Indians that the British had conscripted), formed the multi-racial Marxist People's Progressive Party, and fought for human rights and national independence. Janet Jagan remained in Guyana despite fluctuating fortunes -- she was jailed; she was the country's first female minister; she was politically ostracized and suffered the disruptive attentions of such heavyweights as Winston Churchill and the CIA. Yet, she persevered and in 1997, at age 77, this Jewish grandmother was elected Guyana's president. Wasserman's film pieces together Janet Jagan's story (as well as the history of this oft-overlooked nation) with archival footage and contemporary interviews, including with Jagan herself, who, still lively, seems less inclined to be introspective about the past and more anxious to get on with the struggle. To be screened via video projection. 4 p.m. Sun., March 7. Loews Waterfront (Al Hoff)
From Thunder in Guyana, Janet Rosenberg-Jagan and Cheddi Jagan on their wedding day (above) and at work in Guyana (below).
Thunder in Guyana
DECRYPTAGE (France, 2003). If you take it at its word -- that it's not trying to be "balanced" -- and if you arrive reasonably well informed and equipped with at least a few grains of salt, this fast-paced, essay-style documentary about anti-Israeli attitudes in the media (especially the French media) should prove useful. Filmmaker Philippe Bensoussan explores the maddening Palestinian-Israeli conflict from the point of view of "the Zionist left": peace activists who favor the creation of a Palestinian state but who are also unyieldingly pro-Israel and anti-terrorism. Explaining matters such as the causes of (and alleged misperceptions about) the current intifada, Decryptage ("deciphering") is consistently provocative, though unfortunately it tends to conflate opposition to Israeli policy with anti-Semitism. One commentator opines rather summarily that the roadblocks to peace include Palestine's supporters in the West, but the film's lack of balance might be most evident in its choice of interview subjects: While we hear scary Arabs calling for death to Jews, the voices of non-extremist Arabs are notably scarce. Still, there's some smart media criticism, as when Decryptage examines how French history informs French media coverage of the Israel-Palestine mess, including the use of the word "colony" to describe settlements in the occupied territories. In French with subtitles. To be screened via video projection. 7 p.m., Sun., March 7. Loews Waterfront (Bill O'Driscoll)
YOSSI AND JAGGER (Israel, 2002). Based on a true story, Eytan Fox's film depicts two Israeli male soldiers stationed on a remote army base, who share a forbidden love while coping with flirty women, military life and constant politics and dangers. Stephen A. Glassman, chairman of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, will speak following the film. In Hebrew with subtitles. 7:30 p.m. Thu., March 11. Regent Square