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22nd Pittsburgh JFilm Festival

JFilm 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 events, 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 (Germany)
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 (France)
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 (Israel)
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.

Wilkinsburg's Dream City Art

April 18, 12 p.m. - 9 p.m.
Things are happening in Wilkinsburg. From the all-important awarding of a Main Street Designation, to the potential repeal of an archaic liquor license ban, Wilkinsburg is poised to become the next urban neighborhood in Allegheny County to ride the wave of revitalization. So, there is no better time than the present to hold a massive public art event that will go a long way in re-introducing people to the borough’s inherent charm. Wlkinsburg’s Dream City Art will be held on Saturday, April 18, and will feature over 40 Wilkinsburg-based artists showcasing their work at 10 different locations spread throughout the business district.

Named after the short-lived amusement park that once stood near Wilkinsburg's Pennsylvania Rail Station at the turn of the century, the event will allow attendees to explore pop-up exhibitions, open studios, site-specific installations, and hands-on workshops, concluding with a reception at Percolate, 317 S. Trenton Ave., from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. For all intents and purposes, Dream City Art is a celebration for the beginning of a new era of Wilkinsburg, so don’t miss the opportunity to see the first phase of what we hope to be a magnificent transformation. For more event information, visit dreamcityworks.org.

Pittsburgh Public Theater presents Othello

As the Pittsburgh Public Theater prepares to stage Othello, arguably William Shakespeare's sharpest and most tragic work, it's exciting to examine the ways in which this play corresponds with the current social climate in America. As race relation issues continue to boil over in a number of different ways -- police brutality chief among them -- the themes inherent in Othello seem white hot: racism, romantic betrayal, "othering," the dynamics of power in the ruling class, stereotypes, pious intolerance; these ideas still manage to resonate today, some 420 years later.

And hopefully, that’s why the PPT has tasked one of its most distinguished casts and crew to stage this momentous play. Between director Ted Pappas, who celebrates his 15th season as the PPT Producing Artistic Director, Broadway veteran Danny Kushner (Jersey Boys, Rent, Footloose) starring as Iago, PPT mainstay Teagle F. Boudgre as Othello, and Amanda Leigh Cobb, returning to the PPT after her role as Cybil in Private Lives, as Desdemona, audiences should be prepared for a vital, lively adaptation. The Othello premiere performance will be held at 8 p.m. on Thursday, April 16, at the O’Reilly Theater. For more information on ticket sales, as well as the full list of cast and crew, visit ppt.org. (621 Penn Ave., Downtown, O’Reilly Theater)
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Society for Contemporary Craft

2100 Smallman St
412-261-7003
www.contemporarycraft.org

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