Greater Phoenix Jewish Film Festival Brings Drama, History to Valley Screens

'Tis the season. Shockingly, we're not talking about football anymore. Instead, we're talking about film. Sundance recently took over Park City, the Oscars are at the end of the month, and Phoenix was just entertained by our own LGBT film festival, Desperado.

But now, it's time for the Valley to add a little kef to the mix with the 19th Greater Phoenix Jewish Film Festival. And this year's line up is impressive, with an Academy Award-winning director, a viewing with Theodore Bikel, and Glenn Close lighting up the big screen.

See also: Ten Films to Look For in 2015

From Sunday, February 8, through Sunday, February 22, you can catch 13 "great films with a little Jewish flavor," as festival organizers put it, at three Harkins Theatre locations around the Valley: Camelview 5, Chandler Fashion 20, and Arrowhead Fountains 18.

Unfortunately, one of the biggest events of the festival, involving the special appearance of Theodore Bikel after the first viewing of Theodore Bikel: In the Shoes of Sholom Aleichem on Sunday, February 15, is sold out already, but you can still buy tickets to a recently added second showing of the documentary on Thursday, February 19, at Camelview.

But don't worry, there are 12 other films on the festival schedule that are just as worthy of your time.

If you're in the mood for an inspirational documentary, check out the incredible story of volunteer World War II pilots who flew "junk" airplanes made out of spare parts for Israel during the War of Independence in Above and Beyond. Guests speakers Craig and Jeffrey Weiss wrote the book I Am My Brother's Keeper: American Volunteers in Israel's War for Independence 1947-1949, which served as the inspiration for the movie.

For something a little lighter, kick back with Quality Balls: The David Steinberg Story, a film about the witty, somewhat loose cannon of a comedian who became a legend with his improv, stand-up, variety show, and eventual directing.

If he'd seen It Happened In Saint-Tropez, we're sure Steinberg would have had plenty of material to work with what with both a wedding and a funeral, sibling rivalry, and unintentional love all being traversed by a dysfunctional family. We know it sounds fairly dramatic on paper, but director Daniele Thompson's light-hearted approach makes it completely all right to laugh.

Political dramas are definitely not in short supply this year. Take your pick from 24 Days, which tells the heart-wrenching story of Parisian Jew Ilan Halimi who was kidnapped and held for ransom back in 2006 and the struggle his family went through trying to get him back, God's Slave, which looks at the bombing of the Buenos Aires Jewish Community Center in 1994 through the eyes of a somewhat reluctant Islamic terrorist and an Israeli special agent, or Bethlehem, in which a Palestinian teenager is torn between his loyalty to his brother, Ibrahim, and his father figure who just so happens to be a part of a plan to assassinate Ibrahim.

Just as dramatic but much less political is Closed Season. Through flashbacks, viewers learn the story of Albert, a Jew running from Nazis just after World War II, who finds sanctuary with peasants Fritz and Emma. Albert is happy to work the farm to repay the couple for their kindness, but Fritz, unable to impregnate his wife, decides that having Albert and Emma try to produce an heir would be a better idea.

The World War II theme continues with The Last Mentsch, in which an Auschwitz survivor examines his heritage and denial of it as he senses his life is coming to an end, and Run Boy Run, directed by Academy Award-winner Pepe Danquart, about a Polish boy's fight to outrun, outsmart, and outlast the Nazi regime.

Finally, it wouldn't be a film festival without a little romance, and there is plenty to be found in the love triangle involving two brothers of For A Woman, which was based on director Diane Kurys' own family history.

And don't miss Glenn Close and Frank Langella in 5 to 7, which explores marriage and modern relationships when a French married mother starts a relationship with a young American writer.

Showtimes vary for each movie and theater, but a full schedule can be found on GPJFF's website. Tickets are $11 online or $13 at the door for adults. For more information and to watch trailers for all thirteen movies, visit

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Evie Carpenter is a visual journalist. Using photography, videography, design, and sometimes words, she tells stories she hopes make a bit of difference in the world, even if those stories are in list form and include GIFs.
Contact: Evie Carpenter