JFilm celebrates three decades of showcasing independent Jewish films
“We would not be here and have the stature that we have in the Jewish film festival world if it were not for the Jewish community of Pittsburgh,”
The reviews are in, and JFilm Pittsburgh is a hit. In fact, the Pittsburgh Jewish film festival, celebrating its 30th anniversary, is more than a blockbuster — it’s a classic.
Film Pittsburgh Executive Director Kathryn Spitz Cohan, who’s sat in the director’s chair since 2001, said she wasn’t thinking about a 30-year anniversary when she took the helm 22 years ago.
“I have to say, it’s one of my proudest achievements to make it to 30 years old,” Spitz Cohan said. “With everything the film industry has been through, it’s pretty amazing.”
She attributes the festival’s staying power to one factor: the Pittsburgh’s Jewish community.
“We would not be here and have the stature that we have in the Jewish film festival world if it were not for the Jewish community of Pittsburgh,” she said. “I believe that with all my heart.”
Spitz Cohan said she’s also proud of the work done at Film Pittsburgh — which, in addition to JFilm, runs the Three Rivers Film Festival, Pittsburgh Shorts and ReelAbilities — to bring the world closer and more connected through independent film.
“JFilm, though, is our foundation,” she said.
Spitz Cohan is quick to note that the festival is the result of numerous relationships, including those with the sponsors that support JFilm, the employees who work behind the scenes, the volunteers who help with each film’s showing and those making the selections each year.
Collaboration, she explained, is part of JFilm’s DNA.
That collaboration now stretches across Pittsburgh and includes three theaters: AMC Waterfront in Homestead, The Oaks Theater in Oakmont and McConomy Auditorium at Carnegie Mellon University. JFilm also will feature four films virtually, a remnant of the lingering effects of COVID-19.
The mix of theaters, Spitz Cohan said, is a result of JFilm losing its home when the SouthSide Works Cinema closed in 2020.
The pandemic was another challenge the festival had to overcome, forcing the cancellation of in-person events. Instead, JFilm offered short Jewish-themed films to movie lovers through online links. The rework included prerecorded Q&As with different directors and Spitz Cohan.
This year, the 11-day festival takes place April 20-30 and showcases Jewish-themed, independent feature films. The festival will screen 20 films in person, including two world premieres and a North American premiere, Spitz Cohan said.
The lineup, announced March 30, will feature several events celebrating JFilm’s 30th anniversary including:
• A special 30th-anniversary bash at Bravo! Italian Kitchen across from the AMC Waterfront on the festival’s opening night
• Conversations with visiting filmmakers
• Film Schmoozes, in partnership with the University of Pittsburgh’s Jewish Studies Program, which feature casual
conversations after a film’s screening.
• A bagel brunch before one special film
JFilm will include the world premiere of “The Cure for Hate,” about anti-hate activist Tony McAleer who Spitz Cohan met at the 2022 Eradicate Hate Global Summit in Pittsburgh; the international premiere of “Our Story”; and the North American premiere of “Jack L. Warner: The Last Mogul,” about the founder of Warner Bros. Studios. Warner lived in Youngstown, Ohio, and opened his first movie theater in New Castle, Pennsylvania.
One of the Film Schmoozes already scheduled will follow a screening of “Cinema Sabaya,” Israel’s submission to the Academy Awards. The festival will also include a conversation after the film “Finding Light” about the ballet “Light/The Holocaust & Humanity Project,” on which the film is based. The discussion will include the film’s director Paul Michael Bloodgood, who was a dancer in the original production of the ballet, choreographer Steven Mills, and Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre Artistic Director Adam W. McKinney.
Spitz Cohan credited the founders of the JFilm Festival and the community that helps make it a reality each year, and said she’s grateful for the financial support JFilm receives from individuals and organizations, including the Arthur J. and Betty F. Diskin Cultural Endowment Fund through the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh.
Federation President and CEO Jeff Finkelstein said he’s pleased with what the festival has become.
“JFilm began at the Jewish Federation; since then, it has grown and blossomed, engaging so many in our community through Jewish cultural arts,” he said. “We are proud to continue our support.”
As to the future, Spitz Cohan hopes to have a permanent home for the film festival by its 35th anniversary.
To see the festival’s lineup of films, visit filmpittsburgh.org/pages/jfilm. PJC
David Rullo can be reached at [email protected]