The 14th annual Pittsburgh Jewish-Israeli Film Festival, spotlighting films that represent Jewish experiences, concludes Sun., March 25. Films screen at SouthSide Works Cinema, on the South Side (412-381-7335). Tickets are $8 for adults, $7 for seniors and $5 for students. For tickets and more information, see www.ujfpittsburgh.org/filmfestival or call 412-992-5203.
The final week's selections are as follows:
5 DAYS. It's likely that director Yoav Shamir anticipated plenty of drama when he set up multiple camera crews to capture events over five historic days in 2005, when a few thousand Jewish settlers were forcibly evacuated from the Gaza Strip by the Israeli Defense Forces. Yet despite a few minor skirmishes (wholly anticipated), the evacuation goes smoothly. Thus, 5 Days can't quite shake the nagging sense that it would be a more interesting and provocative film if trouble had broken out. Instead, Shamir is left to document the actions taken by various sides -- soldiers, hardline settlers, itinerant protesters -- as they play out their expected roles in what Shamir sees as an orchestrated dance of resistance, retreat and face-saving. The film will be followed by a discussion led by the film's producer, Moshe Levinson, and Uriel Palti, consul general of Israel to the mid-Atlantic region of the U.S. In Hebrew, with subtitles. To be screened via video projection. 7:30 p.m. Sun., March 25. SouthSide Works (Al Hoff)
IMAGINARY WITNESS: HOLLYWOOD AND THE HOLOCAUST. Daniel Anker's fascinating documentary examines the role Hollywood played (and didn't play) depicting Nazi Germany and the Holocaust, beginning in the late 1930s through today's myriad treatments. Incorporating film clips and contemporary interviews with film-industry veterans, Witness sketches out how filmmakers struggled with depicting the horrific, the incalculable and the personal as both entertainment and necessary historical fact. Does focusing on one individual's story illuminate the Holocaust -- or shrink it to a single-focus melodrama? How sparingly should newsreel footage from the death camps be used? Do more uplifting stories like Schindler's List reinforce the decency of humanity -- or gloss over the horror for generations with no personal knowledge of that history? Anker's documentary is thoughtful and provocative, and the post-screening discussion led by Anker is sure to be lively. 5 p.m. Sun., March 25. SouthSide Works (AH)
THE RAPE OF EUROPA. Plundering has gone hand-in-hand with conquest since the dawn of time, but Hitler's theft of Europe's treasures was unprecedented in both its premeditation and its totality. This documentary -- co-directed by Richard Berge, Bonnie Cohen and Nicole Newnham, and based upon the award-winning book by Lynn H. Nicholas -- explores how the plundering and ideological purging of Europe's art masterpieces was a highly industrialized and bureaucratized priority in the Third Reich. The film's shifts between historical accounts and footage, and contemporary attempts to locate and replace the stolen works, makes what could have been a dry history lesson into a surprisingly gripping narrative. Particularly fascinating is how art-collecting became an obligatory pastime, even a mania, among the Nazi elite, and how curators preserved national collections during the siege of Leningrad. Yet throughout, there's the tickle of an unanswered question: Is a work of art ever worth more than a human life? Franklin Toker, professor of art and architecture history at Pitt, will lead a discussion following the film. In English, and various languages, with subtitles. To be screened via video projection. 7 p.m. Thu., March 22. SouthSide Works (AJ)
STEEL TOES. In contemporary Montreal, a neo-Nazi skinhead (Andrew W. Walker), jailed for the beating death of an East Indian immigrant, butts heads with his appointed defense attorney, a liberal Jew (David Strathairn). Co-directed by David Gow and Mark Adam, and based on Gow's play Cherry Docs, Steel Toes can't escape its box labeled "two-man-stage-play." Despite a few shots of street life, we get no sense of Montreal, a vibrant city whose cultural mélange both spurs and counters racial strife, which is surely an absent character. The drama is also compromised by some obvious preachiness about racial equality, tolerance, remorse and redemption. Rather than relying on the raw emotional impact of well-written, realistic conflict, Steel Toes ends up mired in the artifice of educating. 9 p.m. Sat., March 24, and 3 p.m. Sun., March 25. SouthSide Works (AH)
WISDOM OF THE PRETZEL. Director Ilan Haytner's contemporary film starts out lively enough, introducing us to Golan and his crew of twenty-something boob-obsessed slackers. There's a whiff of Swingers Tel Aviv-style to it, as Golan navigates the modern dating scene and avoids gainful employment. The stakes ratchet up when he meets his best pal's sister; she's gorgeous, but an impulsive handful. But in its second half, Wisdom gets bogged down its characters' uninteresting crises. Gaining maturity isn't an automatic invitation to grow dull and broody, as Wisdom seems to suggest. An inelegantly constructed ending is particularly grating. In Hebrew, with subtitles. 8:30 p.m. Sat., March 24. SouthSide Works (AH)
WRESTLING WITH ANGELS: PLAYWRIGHT TONY KUSHNER. There's a promising theme in this portrait of the Pulitzer-winner, found somewhere between his desire for popular success and his abiding commitment to tell personal stories that promote political progressivism. But while Frieda Lee Mock's documentary covers much ground, and spends much time with its amusing and earnest subject, it never gets much past admiring Kushner and empathizing with his frustrations. We hear how he grew up a sissy in Lake Charles, La.; learn about his epic breakthrough play, Angels in America (and watch its film version get made); and attend his marriage to Mark Harris. But Mock's film is poorly structured, with pretentiously Roman-numeraled sections. (How does Kushner's visit to his fat counselor fit under "III. Collective Action vs. Injustice"?) In works like his musical play Caroline, or Change (whose creation and premiere are also documented), Kushner interrogates his life of privilege more than Mock ever does. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette theater critic Christopher Rawson will introduce the film. 1 p.m. Sun., March 25. SouthSide Works (BO)