19th annual Jewish fi lmfest to focus on U.S. show biz icons

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By M.V. Moorhead

The logo this year is a pretzel shaped like the Star of David, and the motto promises “Great Films, with a little Jewish flavor.” But while the 19th annual Greater Phoenix Jewish Film Festival, which runs Feb. 8 through 22, offers its usual variety of American and foreign works, fiction and documentary, drama and comedy and sometimes a blend of both, the signature “flavor” of this year’s festival seems to be that of the iconic Jewish figures in American show business. On the schedule this year, for instance, is Marvin Hamlisch: What He Did For Love, a portrait of the musical genius behind “The Way We Were” and A Chorus Line, one of that tiny category of artists known as EGOTs, for having won an Emmy, a Grammy an Oscar and a Tony. Dori Berinstein’s film plays at 7 p.m. on February 15 at Harkins Chandler Fashion 20, one of Festival’s three venues (the others are Harkins Camelview and Harkins Arrowhead). There’s also a documentary about an insufficiently recognized influence in the modern stand-up comedy era. Quality Balls: The David Steinberg Story chronicles the Canadian actor, director, writer, Johnny Carson guest (and guest host) and all-around wiseacre who shook up network watchdogs in the ‘60s and ‘70s and was one of the great definers of what a hip comedian looked and sounded like in that era. The film plays at 3 p.m. Feb. 8 at Arrowhead and 3 p.m. Feb. 11 at Camelview. Finally, there’s Theodore Bikel: In the Shoes of Sholom Aleichem. This documentary is about the great entertainer who appeared movie classics from My Fair Lady to The African Queen, on Broadway as the original Captain Von Trapp in The Sound of Music and on TV in everything from The Twilight Zone to All in the Family to Star Trek: The Next Generation, but is probably best known for holding the record number of performances as Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof. Bikel, now 90, is scheduled to appear at the screening at Harkins Camelview on Feb. 15, but alas, according to the Festival’s website this special event is already sold out. Not that this year is all showbiz, all the time. Another highlight of this year’s Festival is Above and Beyond, a documentary about American WWII fighter pilots who volunteered for service in the Israeli War for Independence in the late ‘40s. Directed by Roberta Grossman and produced by Nancy Spielberg (Stephen’s younger sister), the film plays at Chandler at 3 p.m. February 8. Nor is it all documentaries this year. Also on the schedule is 24 Days, from rance, an account of the 2006 kidnapping of Ilan hamidi. Other selections this year include Bethlehem, a 2013 Israeli drama— that country’s entry for best foreignlanguage Oscar; a romantic drama, 5 to 7; and a French romantic comedy, It Happened in Saint-Tropez. Playing at Camelview on Feb. 9 is The Last Mentsch, a road trip drama about an elderly man who, having long denied his Jewish identity, must return to his birthplace in Hungary to re-establish it so that he can be buried in a Jewish cemetery, while For a Woman (Pour une Femme) by Diane Kurys of Entre Nous fame, plays at Chandler on Feb 8. Details: gpjff.org.

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