hosts the 22nd iteration of its famed JFilm Festival beginning on Thursday, April 16, with screenings running through April 26. Over the last 20 years, JFilm has continually delivered a distinguished selection of international independent films that aim to deepen the audience's understanding of Jewish culture and humanity. But, as Executive Director Kathryn Spitz Cohan explains, JFilm still strives to share films that will appeal to audiences the world over.
"We always try to show a variety of themes and genres so that everyone can find something they like. Many of the themes are universal in nature," said Spitz Cohan. "Lovers of independent film, no matter their religion, will find films of interest."
Every film selected for this year's festival will be enjoying its Pittsburgh premiere, with 28 screenings of 20 films from eight different countries. The programming's diversity speaks to JFilm's mission of promoting tolerance and inclusion; films with clear political agendas or explicit propaganda are avoided. With tension rising from the Pittsburgh Jewish community recently over Conflict Kitchen's Palestine cuisine and accompanying event
s, specifically from the Jewish Federation of Pittsburgh, it's exciting and heartening to see how the people behind the JFilm Festival are determined not to turn their screenings into battlegrounds.
"We consider all films that fit within our mission," said Spitz Cohan. "We don’t shy away from films that are controversial. Our films are vetted by at least eight members of our volunteer committee as well as by JFilm staff and it is a competitive process. We tend not to show films that are clearly propaganda or one-sided with regards to the Middle East conflict."
Below, a look at some of the festival's can't-miss films:
The Last Menstch
Opening night premiere
7 p.m., Thursday, April 16, The Manor Theatre
This film centers around Menachem Teitelbaum, a German-Jewish holocaust survivor who has spent his entire life concealing his Jewish heritage. When faced with his own mortality, he attempts to reconcile with his Jewish spirituality and requests to be buried in a Jewish cemetery in Cologne, but is refused by the rabbis who do not accept his about-face after years of religious suppression. Menachem then enlists a young, chain-smoking Turkish woman to drive him to his birthplace in Turkey to find a proper resting place. Along the way, he continues to come to grips with a part of his soul that has laid dormant for over 70 years.
Once in a Lifetime
5:30 p.m., Friday, April 17, The Manor Theatre
Once in a Lifetime
takes a diverse but unruly classroom of students in a working-class suburb outside of Paris and has them come face-to-face with the residual trauma of the holocaust. Based on a true story, their teacher forces them to submit a project for a national competition that examines the ways in which the holocaust can still affect the young people of today. The project eventually bands together children of various backgrounds -- Christian, Jewish, Muslim -- as they understand the importance of tolerance and remembrance.
A Borrowed Identity
9 p.m., Saturday, April 25, The Manor Theatre
A Borrowed Identity
takes a unique look at the people living within the Israel-Palestine conflict, focusing on a smart, young Palestinian-Israeli who is accepted into a prestigious boarding school in Jerusalem. He must navigate the lingual, cultural, and religious differences while a war continues outside his school's walls. The film was directed by celebrated Israeli director Eran Riklis and was written by Arab-Israeli journalist Sayed Kashua, based on his book Dancing Arabs.
For more information about the JFilm Festival schedule, visit jfilmpgh.org.