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The Pittsburgh Jewish-Israeli Film Festival

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The 17th annual Pittsburgh Jewish-Israeli Film Festival continues with films representing Jewish experience from Israel and around the world. Recent narrative features and documentaries present material ranging from the comic and the dramatic to the inspirational. 

Films screen through March 21 at six area theaters and venues including: SouthSide Works Cinema; McConomy Auditorium, Carnegie Mellon University (5000 Forbes Ave., Oakland); the Galleria (1500 Washington Road, Mount Lebanon); Carmike 15 (Westmoreland Mall, Greensburg); Melwood Screening Room (477 Melwood Ave., Oakland); and the August Wilson Center (980 Liberty Ave., Downtown). Tickets are $9 for adults, $8 for seniors and students, and $5 for under 18. For tickets and more information, call 412-992-5203 or www.UJFpittsburgh.org/filmfestival.

 

AGAINST THE TIDE. This documentary, produced by the Simon Weisenthal Center, examines the inaction of the U.S. government and the American Jewish establishment during much of the Holocaust -- and the attempts by a Jewish activist, Peter Bergson, to rescue and relocate Jews in nations under Nazi rule. The Roosevelt administration and Zionist leader Rabbi Samuel Wise are given critical treatment, while the stories of less well-known figures who supported rescue efforts are foregrounded; parallels with the contemporary Darfur genocide are underscored. The story wanders at times, but the sometimes-surprising information that's revealed is worth it. 1:30 p.m. Sun., March 14. SouthSide Works (Andy Mulkerin)

 

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AJAMI. The lives of a dozen or so residents of Jaffa intersect with devastating consequences in this 2009 ensemble drama. Told in a nonlinear fashion, Ajami depicts a variety of residents -- wealthy Arab Christians, illegal Palestinian teen-agers, Jewish policemen and restless young Muslim men -- living together uneasily. It takes just one rash decision or a casual misinterpretation for trouble to ignite. The jigsaw structure of this otherwise neo-realistic film requires attention, but the patient viewer will be rewarded when the final links are snapped into place. The Oscar-nominated film itself is a successful cross-cultural project, co-written and co-directed by an Israeli Jew (Yaron Shani) and an Israeli Arab (Scandar Copti). In Arabic and Hebrew, with subtitles. 9 p.m. Sat., March 20. SouthSide Works (Al Hoff)

 

ANITA. In the aftermath of a 1994 terrorist bombing in Buenos Aires, Anita, a young woman with Down syndrome, is separated from her mother, on whom she relies. Marcos Carnevale's drama depicts Anita's journey as she learns to take care of herself and others; her progress includes both tender moments and harsh realities. Anita is portrayed by Alejandra Manzo, an actress with Down syndrome: Manzo shines in the role, drawing viewers in with her sincerity, tenacity and joy. Also notable is the fine work of Norma Aleandro, who plays Anita's mother. In Spanish, with subtitles. 2:45 p.m. Sun., March 21. SouthSide Works (Lauren Daley)

 

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BREAKING UPWARDS. Battling codependency and a relationship becoming stale, Daryl and Zoe devise a plan to slowly break up with each other. The couple has an obvious chemistry -- perhaps because the film is a fictionalized account of real-life couple Daryl Wein and Zoe Lister Jones, who star as themselves in a film they also wrote, directed and created the soundtrack for. With a great supporting cast, this charming film suffers only slightly from precious hipster humor -- strategizing over who "gets" Whole Foods, fighting over Netflix and Gchat rights, and so on. But it's otherwise a great feature for the sarcastic and sentimental. The filmmakers will attend the screening. 7 p.m. Tue., March 16. Melwood (Lydia Heyliger)

 

ELI & BEN. Twelve-year-old Eli worships his fun-lovin' dad, Ben. But after his father is arrested and charged with corruption, Eli finds that sorting out right and wrong is much more problematic: His dad seems to be lying, and the cops seem to be telling the truth. In Ori Ravid's coming-of-age dramedy, Eli successfully muddles through: dating the right girl; assessing true friends; and adjusting his expectations for his father's behavior. In Hebrew, with subtitles. 5 p.m. Sun., March 21 (SouthSide Works) (AH)

 

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FOR MY FATHER. Tarek agrees to be a suicide bomber, less for ideological reasons than to restore family honor. But once in Tel Aviv, his locked-on explosive vest fails to detonate, leaving the young man/walking bomb to the kindness of several Jewish neighbors (including some who aren't so happy with Israel themselves). Over meals and conversations, Tarek re-evaluates his mission. Dror Zahavi's ensemble dramedy makes familiar points about shared humanity and the seemingly intractable Israeli-Arab divide, but does so in a gentle and engaging fashion. In Hebrew and Arabic, with subtitles. 8 p.m. Mon., March 15. McConomy Auditorium, CMU (AH)

 

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HE'S MY GIRL. Simon is a successful musician who pursues other men despite his feelings for Naim, an Arab transsexual. Mildly pissed but nonplussed, Naim poses as a nurse and moves in after being hired to care for Simon's mother. Then enters a handful of unexpected family members, including Simon's ex-wife. This French comedy from Jean-Jaques Zilbermann claims to have adult content, but Naim's striking beauty and charm are the only things that raise eyebrows in this standard relationship farce. The March 20 screening will be preceded by "Sidney Turtlebaum," a British short film about an elderly gay man (Derek Jacobi) who trolls strangers' shivas for his own reasons. In French, with subtitles. 11 a.m. Fri., March 19, and 8:30 p.m. Sat., March 20. SouthSide Works (LD)

 

HEY, HEY, IT'S ESTHER BLUEBURGER. It's not easy being a teen-age girl, and it's even tougher when you're "different" (nerdy, gawky and the only Jew in your posh all-girls school). But plucky Esther (Danielle Catanzariti) makes the acquaintance of the older and cooler Sunni (Keisha Castle-Hughes), and begins to re-invent herself. Set in Adelaide, Australia, Cathy Randall's coming-of-age film is a shade too uneven, bouncing from After-School Special melodrama to absurdist comedy (a la The Royal Tenenbaums). But its heart is in the right place, and Esther's family is quite amusing. To be screened via video projection. 3:45 p.m. Sun., March 14. SouthSide Works (AH)

 

KILLING KASZTNER: THE JEW WHO DEALT WITH NAZIS. Rezso Kastzner saved nearly 2,000 Jews from the Nazis ... by negotiating with Adolf Eichmann. Galyen Ross' recent documentary examines the life of this controversial figure -- hero or traitor? -- who was himself murdered by Jewish extremists in 1957. Ross will attend the screening. To be screened via video projection. In English, and Hebrew, with subtitles. 7 p.m. Wed., March 10. SouthSide Works

 

MAHARAL. In this family adventure, a treasure hunter and three kids go in search of a mythical piece of Jewish history -- the Golem of Prague, a giant protector made from clay. To be screened via video projection. In Czech, with subtitles. Noon, Sun., March 14 (August Wilson Center)

 

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MRS. MOSKOWITZ AND THE CATS. An unexpected stay in a convalescence home turns out to be just the tonic needed for the fastidious, long-widowed Mrs. Moskowitz. She starts a romance with a rascally former soccer player, has her senses sharpened by a detour or two, and ultimately, reconnects to the joy of living. As the titular heroine, Rita Zohar simply shines in Jorge Gurvich's gentle dramedy. In Hebrew, with subtitles. 7:30 p.m. Sat., March 13. SouthSide Works (AH)

 

NORA'S WILL. Mariana Chenillo's dramedy serves up a shiva mixed up with a Seder, with sides of a Mexican wake-to-go and plenty of family discord. After Nora commits suicide, her apartment becomes a gently comedic battleground for her atheist ex-husband, an appointed Jewish prayer-reader, the Catholic housekeeper and a couple of grandkids who love playing in the cross-shaped coffin. The flow of characters through the single set works so well that the few fill-in-the-story flashbacks feel unnecessary and distracting. In Spanish, with subtitles. 8 p.m. Sun., March 14. SouthSide Works (AH)

 

PROTEKTOR. A Czech journalist during World War II agrees to broadcast Nazi propaganda on a radio show, in order to protect the film career of his Jewish actress wife. Marek Najbrt directs this period drama. In Czech, with subtitles. 9:15 p.m. Sat., March 13. SouthSide Works

 

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SAVIORS IN THE NIGHT. Based on the memoirs of Marga Spiegel, Ludi Boeken's drama tells the story of a farmer in western Germany who hid the family of a Jewish army buddy during the Nazi regime. Nuance and ambiguity color the story's morality; the farmer is hiding Jews, but also sending a son to fight for Hitler and raising a daughter as a member of a Nazi youth group. Doubt and mixed emotions make the film a moody thriller; German actress/model Veronica Ferres heads up the cast. In German and French, with subtitles. 6 p.m. Sun., March 14 (SouthSide Works) and 7:30 p.m. Wed., March 17 (Carmike 15) (AM)

 

THROUGH MY EYES: STORIES OF GALILEE YOUTH. A 90-minute program of short personal films made by teen-age Israeli Jews and Arabs. To be screened via video projection. In English, and various languages, with subtitles. 1 p.m. Sun., March 21. SouthSide Works

 

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WHERE I STAND: THE HANK GREENSPUN STORY. It's almost as if the late Hank Greenspun lived a dozen colorful and influential lives: gunrunner for Haganah; a formative player in creating Las Vegas; and hard-charging publisher for the Las Vegas Sun. His paths crossed with Bugsy Siegel, Howard Hughes, Richard Nixon and Joe McCarthy, and he cheerfully took on (and won) such "unwinnable" causes as racial segregation in Vegas, unfair IRS practices and nuclear-waste dumping. Scott Goldstein's documentary touches on many entertaining chapters of Greenspun's life, but is somewhat compromised by clunky production. The vintage-typewriter interstitial gimmick gets old fast; and honey-voiced Welshman Anthony Hopkins is an odd choice to use as a voiceover for the raspy, pugnacious Brooklynite Greenspun, who proves a delightful raconteur in archival footage. To be screened via video projection. 7:30 p.m. Thu., March 18. SouthSide Works (AH)

 

YOO-HOO, MRS. GOLDBERG. Aviva Kempner's engaging documentary depicts one of the pioneering women of 20th-century entertainment. In the 1930s, Gertrude Berg created, wrote and starred in a radio show that followed the daily life of a Jewish family living in New York City. On it, Berg developed her alter ego, Molly Goldberg, the warm mother hen to her own family as well as confidante to her many neighbors. In 1949, Berg moved the Goldbergs to the nascent medium of television, effectively establishing the template for all domestic sit-coms to follow. She was seemingly indomitable ... until the entertainment industry became a target of the Red Scare. 2 p.m. Thu., March 11 (Galleria) (AH)

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