Pick of the Week

Festive Films

Comedy, romance, documentary, thrillers, historical drama, concerts, sports movies and films from the United States, Israel, France, Sweden and Mexico: The 15th annual Tucson Jewish Film Festival has all that and more. And the popcorn's free.

Most of the festival will take place at the Tucson Jewish Community Center (TJCC), 3800 E. River Road, with additional screenings at the Loft Cinema, the UA's Gallagher Theater and the newly renovated and reopened Fox Tucson Theatre.

The festival runs Jan. 11-22, with related screenings on Feb. 19 and March 11. Music figures prominently among the festival's highlights. The opening film is Isn't This a Time! A Tribute Concert for Harold Leventhal, a documentary directed by Jim Brown, to be screened on Wednesday, Jan. 11 at 7:30 p.m., at the TJCC.

Isn't This a Time! documents a 2003 concert at Carnegie Hall in New York City. It borrows its title from Brown's 1982 documentary about the legendary folk-music group The Weavers.

In the more recent film, that group joins Arlo Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Leon Bibb and Peter, Paul and Mary to perform in tribute to Harold Leventhal. For more than 50 years, as a manager, producer and mentor, Leventhal guided the careers of such musical artists as Joan Baez, Harry Belafonte, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan and Neil Young.

Leventhal, who died at 86 this past October, also worked tirelessly throughout his life to promote social justice, often in conjunction with his artists. His influence was especially significant during the communist witch-hunts, which often targeted artists and performers, led by Sen. Joseph McCarthy during the 1950s.

"For anyone interested in the impact of music on social change in this country, this is a must-see," says Tucson folk singer and promoter Ted Warmbrand via e-mail. Warmbrand knew Leventhal and will lead a sing-along tribute to him following the screening.

"Unassuming Harold Leventhal was one of those dedicated, behind-the-scenes people whose imprint on our culture is impossible to measure. I always looked forward to visiting with him when I was in New York and will miss those all too-brief moments," Warmbrand says.

One of the most anticipated events of the festival has to be the evening-length Kosher Gospel Jubilee, which will include a screening of the documentary film Keep on Walking: Joshua Nelson, The Jewish Gospel Singer, as well as a performance by Nelson and his group, The Kosher Gospel Singers. It starts at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 18.

Nelson is a Jewish and African-American singer, choir director and Hebrew teacher. As the festival's press release says, Nelson has performed for presidents, prime ministers and even Oprah Winfrey.

The 53-minute Keep on Walking was co-directed by the team of Tana Ross, Jespern Sorensen, Freke Vuijst and Vibeke Winding. The live performance by Nelson and his choir will include both Hebrew hymns and roof-raising, Southern-style gospel singing.

On Tuesday, Jan. 17, there will be a free screening of Morgan Neville's Hitmakers: The Teens Who Stole Pop Music, a 2001 documentary about the Brill Building pop song factory in the 1960s. Among those songwriters addressed are Carole King and Gerry Goffin, Neil Sedaka and Burt Bacharach. It will be shown at 5 p.m. at the TJCC.

For a taste of classical music, the film Music From the Inside Out will provide an intimate portrait that follows the musicians of the Philadelphia Orchestra as it goes on concert tour for five years. It was directed by the documentarian Daniel Acker, who also made the acclaimed Scottsboro: An American Tragedy and Imaginary Witness: Hollywood and the Holocaust.

Music From the Inside Out will be shown at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 21, at the Loft, 3233 E. Speedway Blvd.

A total of 25 films will be shown throughout the festival, including nine from Israel, which will constitute the Israel Film Series that winds its way through the festival, touching down at the TJCC, the UA's Gallagher Theater and the Loft.

Special screenings for families--including cartoons and all-ages-oriented shorts, will occur during the festival.

There will also be a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Film Night on Feb. 19. It will feature the films Keep Not Silent: Orthodykes, a documentary about lesbians who are also Orthodox Jews; and Good Boys (Yeladim Tovim), director Yair Hochner's daring feature-film debut about a pair of gay Israeli street hustlers.

Llil Alexander, director of Keep Not Silent, will appear as a guest speaker at the screening, which starts at 7 p.m. at the TJCC. Only filmgoers 18 and older will be admitted.

What's listed here is just the tip of the festival iceberg. For a complete schedule and descriptions of the films, go to www.tucsonjewishfilmfestival.org.

Generally, tickets for the screenings run $7 for adults and $5 for students and senior citizens. Prices for premiere and opening-reception events are $3 more.

Tickets for the Joshua Nelson Kosher Gospel Jubilee--which include the concert and the film screening--cost $15 for adults, $12 for students and seniors.

A pass to all the festival events, except the March screenings, costs $75. Tickets are available at the TJCC, as well as Antigone Books, all three Bookman's locations, Hear's Music and Details Art and Design.

The TJCC is presenting the festival with the assistance of media sponsors such as the Tucson Weekly and the Arizona Jewish Post. Call 299-3000, ext. 106, for more information or to buy advance tickets.