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The Pittsburgh Jewish-Israeli Film Festival

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The 16th annual Pittsburgh Jewish-Israeli Film Festival opens its 18-day run on Thu., March 12, with the Pittsburgh premiere of The Little Traitor, a dramedy about an unlikely friendship in 1947 Palestine.

The festival also offers 21 other films from Israel and around the world representing Jewish experiences from the comic to the dramatic to the inspirational, as presented through recent narrative features and documentaries. New this year is a short-films program, daytime screenings for moms and babies, and, for the committed, a nine-episode Israeli TV series.

Films screen through Sun., March 29, at six area theaters and venues including: SouthSide Works Cinema; Katz Auditorium, Jewish Community Center (5738 Darlington Ave., Squirrel Hill); McConomy Auditorium, Carnegie Mellon University (5000 Forbes Ave., Oakland); the Galleria (1500 Washington Road, Mount Lebanon); Cranberry 8 (Rt. 19, Cranberry);and Carmike 15 (Westmoreland Mall, Greensburg). Tickets are $8 for adults, $7 for seniors and $5 for students. For tickets and more information, call 412-992-5203 or www.UJFpittsburgh.org/filmfestival

 

The first week's selections are as follows:

 

ABOUT YOSSI. Avi Hemy's hour-long documentary chronicles the life of a severely disabled Israeli man. Also screening: Nadav Noah's short film "Reaching Hedva," in which the filmmaker recounts the moment he accepted the reality of his physical disability. To be screened via video projection. Both films in Hebrew, with subtitles. 10:30 a.m. Sun., March 15. Jewish Community Center

 

CIRCUMCISE ME. Yisrael Campbell's my-quirky-life-and-oy-is-it-funny shtick is so on point you'll be surprised to learn the middle-aged comedian wasn't always a Jewish kvetcher. Raised Catholic in Philadelphia, Campbell converted to Judaism -- no less than three times: He began at Reform and ended up at Orthodox ("Is anybody else hot, or am I the only one dressed for 17th-century Poland?"). He disproves the maxim that you can't be serious -- and funny -- about religion. In David Blumenfeld and Matthew Kalman's 45-minute film, Campbell tells his story via his standup routine and a short stroll around his adopted hometown of Jerusalem. After the screening, Campbell will crack wise in a live performance. To be screened via video projection. 7 p.m. Sun., March 15. Jewish Community Center (Al Hoff)

 

THE DEAL. A failing movie producer (William H. Macy) sees a shot at redemption -- with a film about Benjamin Disraeli, tweaked to feature a black action star (LL Cool J). Steven Schacter directs this Tinsel Town farce, which also stars Meg Ryan. 8 p.m. Sun., March 15. SouthSide Works

 

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THE DEBT. Assaf Bernstein's 2007 film, which is slated for an English-language remake next year, is a historical fiction based on the Nazi hunts of the 1960s. The Debt follows two threads simultaneously: the 1964 mission of three young Israeli Mossad agents charged with capturing a war criminal known as the Surgeon of Birkenau, and the reprise of the mission 30 years later, when the Nazi, who wasn't apprehended successfully the first time, is found at a nursing home in Kiev. The parallel plot lines complement one another and add suspense without confusing the point. The agents are presented in varying degrees of heroism and dishonor, adding nuance. In German and Hebrew, with subtitles. 8:20 p.m. Sat., March 14 (SouthSide Works) and 7 p.m. Sun., March 22 (Galleria) (Andy Mulkerin)

 

HOLY LAND HARDBALL. Next year in Jerusalem ... baseball? There are a lot of strikes and foul balls as American bagel entrepreneur Larry Baras tries to bring professional baseball to the Holy Land. Filmmakers Brett Rapkin and Erik Kesten follow along -- from tryouts to relocating teams abroad to opening day in a country with only one baseball field. It's a quixotic pursuit, a real-life "field of dreams," that grows more entertaining as we get to know a few players, who range from New York Jewish lads to mystified Dominicans. To be screened via video projection. In English, and some Hebrew and Spanish, with subtitles. 7:30 p.m. Mon., March 16. SouthSide Works (AH)

 

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THE LITTLE TRAITOR. Living in Jerusalem in 1947, 11-year-old Proffi (Ido Port), a child of Polish refugees, is frustrated by the presence of British soldiers. But one soldier -- Sgt. Dunlop (a wonderful Alfred Molina) -- manages to strike up a friendship with Proffi. (Among their shared interests are funny words, girls and the Book of Samuel.) Lynn Roth's film, adapted from a novel by Amos Oz, snapshots just one of many contentious chapters in the recent history of the Palestine/Israel region. But despite the ease with which disputes and prejudices can form, Traitor also holds out hope for understanding and reconciliation. Ticket price includes a reception following the screening. In English, and Hebrew, with subtitles. 7 p.m. Thu., March 12. SouthSide Works ($35). Also, moms-and-babies screening: 11 a.m. Fri., March 13 ($8). (AH)

 

NYMPHS IN THE MIST. Two slackers who don't have much luck with women decide to make a movie. For one, it's the chance to tell a "real" story about an ordinary guy; for the other, it's a chance to audition hot chicks. Not a lot happens: A bright young woman joins the pair's venture; everybody frets about meaningful relationships; and bit by bit, these young adults edge forward in life. It's familiar fare, but the characters are likable and relatable. Director Yoram Sachs will present the film. To be screened via video projection. In Hebrew, with subtitles. 7:30 p.m. Thu., March 19. SouthSide Works (AH)

 

QUICK FLICKS. Highlighting this 90-minute presentation of seven short films is "Toyland" (Jochen Freydank, Germany), a poignant tale of two playmates during World War II, which recently won an Academy Award. Other shorts are from Israel, Hungary and the United States. To be screened via video projection. In English, and various languages, with subtitles. 8:30 p.m. Wed., March 18. SouthSide Works

 

A SECRET. Claude Miller's handsomely filmed drama jumps between the 1950s, 1980s and 1940s to show how one extended Jewish family in France was undone and re-configured by the horrors of World War II. Flashbacks reveal the entire story to us, though virtually none of it will come as a surprise to the astute viewer. Miller's goal is not to shock, but to explain -- particularly how powerful the truth can be: For some, it's devastating, for others, liberating. Then, there's the collective knowledge of France's Jewish survivors, with various unresolved burdens of shame, guilt, sadness and anger. The film is well acted, and if its themes are familiar, they're well served by the intimate scale. In French and some Yiddish, with subtitles. 7:30 p.m. Tue., March 17. Cranberry 8 (AH)

 

THE SECRETS. Naomi, the brilliant and beautiful daughter of an Orthodox rabbi, escapes the sometimes-stifling/sometimes-loving arms of the patriarchy to attend an Israeli seminary for women. There she encounters the sulky Michelle, with whom she attempts to save the soul of Anouk, a fallen French woman. Secrets crams in a lot -- feminist religious critique, spiritual journeys, sexual awakening -- and wraps it up with a too-easy ending. But strong performances and a sense of humor ground the effort. Director Avi Nesher blends a smoky noir aesthetic with the harsh desert light of the Holy Land -- just as Naomi and Michelle struggle to reconcile their passion and piety. In Hebrew and French, with subtitles. 7 p.m. Tue., March 17. SouthSide Works (Chris Potter)

 

A TOUCH AWAY. This well-received Israeli television drama tracks the intertwined lives of two neighboring families in Tel Aviv: One group is secular Russians, the other Orthodox Israelis. Each episode is 38 minutes. To be screened via video projection. In Hebrew and Russian, with subtitles. Episodes 1-3: 12:30 p.m. Sun., March 15, Jewish Community Center; and 11 a.m. Sun., March 29, SouthSide Works. Episodes 4-6: 1:30 pm. Sun., March 22, and 1 p.m. Sun., March 29, SouthSide Works. Episodes 7-8: 3 p.m. Sun., March 29, SouthSide Works.

 

DANS LA VIE. Philippe Faucon packs a lot into this gentle humanist drama about tolerance. The film (English title: Two Ladies) centers on an Arab woman and the affluent, paraplegic Jewish woman she cares for. It's no surprise that this French odd couple -- of a similar age, and both with roots in Algeria -- learn how much they have in common. But in just 70 minutes, Faucon (using a seemingly nonprofessional cast) sketches a remarkably complex and empathetic picture of cultural paradox, cultural change and even familial politics in today's France. In French and Arabic, with subtitles. 7 p.m. Wed., March 18. SouthSide Works (Bill O'Driscoll)

 

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VILLA JASMIN. Ferid Boughedir's film is equal parts love story, history lesson and family drama. A thirty-something Frenchman named Serge returns to his birthplace in Tunisia to uncover the personal and political lives of his parents in the 1930s and '40s. In flashbacks, we learn that Serge's parents, Jews of some means and influence, were involved in both socialist and independence movements, and fared poorly under German occupation. It's a trifle soapy and contrived, but location shooting in the old city of Tunis make this film a travelogue treat. To be screened via video projection. In French and some Arabic, with subtitles. 3 p.m. Sun., March 15. Jewish Community Center (AH)

 

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THE WAVE. A popular teacher at a German high school enlists his students in a week-long behavioral experiment designed to illustrate how autocratic movements take hold. It works well -- too well. The story is very loosely adapted from a similar school project in 1960s California, but re-setting the story among today's affluent German youth (who groan at having to study Hitler again) lends the work a palpable "it could happen here" tension. Director Dennis Gansel keeps the hot-button material just shy of boiling over, and the result is an effective psychological thriller. In German, with subtitles. 7 p.m. Mon., March 16. Galleria (AH)

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