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Shelter (Mistor) is a psychological thriller about a turncoat Hezbollah spy who undergoes facial reconstruction surgery and the Mossad agent assigned to protect her.
Shelter (Mistor) is a psychological thriller about a turncoat Hezbollah spy who undergoes facial reconstruction surgery and the Mossad agent assigned to protect her.
Photo by Eitan Riklis

Find Turncoat Spies, Paranoia and More at the 2018 Houston Jewish Film Festival

Soviet intervention, trigger-happy world leaders, computer-hacking and the threat of global annihilation? With today's headlines the scenario may sound all too familiar, but it's actually the plot behind 1964's paranoia-driven sci fi thriller, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.

Leah Gross, the chair of this year's Houston Jewish Film Festival, decided it was about time for another showing of this Stanley Kubrick-directed dark satire, putting it on the schedule as Chair's Choice. "It has real resonance in our time with leaders who are kind of on the edge and North Korea partnering with terror; the threat of annihilation," says Gross. "I get a choice. I hope people turn out; the millennials."

But it's not all doom and gloom for this annual showcase of Jewish and Israeli films. Now in its 14th year, this year's line-up has plenty of A-listers (Richard Gere, Jessica Walter, Mercedes Ruehl, Elliott Gould, Annie Potts, Bebe Neuwirth), and a few of the offerings are already sold out (Maestro Perlman will be in the house for the sold-out screening of Itzhak).

Gould stars in one of the funniest offerings, a comedic tale of a down-on-his-luck playwright forced to move in with his father after his wife leaves him, along with their son. "It takes place largely in a retirement home. The movie certainly applies to a wide range of people. For those of us in the sandwich generation, it's very compelling," says Gross. Humor Me screens on both March 9 and 17 and Gross says they're coming by the busload from nearby assisted living and independent living facilities, but that this flick is really for everybody. "It's really nice to see that this demographic is more than just two-dimensional."

The opening night film was released last year; Shelter (Mistor) is a psychological thriller about two women trapped in a safe house. "One of the women was very high ranking in Hezbollah and she became a turncoat and started spying for the Israelis but then she was discovered. And so to save her life the Mossad send her to Hamburg so she could have extensive facial reconstruction surgery to go on to live her life," says Gross."While she is convalescing they take a female Mossad agent out of retirement. She is grieving; her husband took a bullet intended for her.

"This film for me checked off a lot of boxes that’s important for an opening night film. It’s a spy thriller which both men and women love but it was different because both protagonists were women. It’s largely in English, which makes it a bit more digestible for our audience, and then there’s this interesting sort of parlor or chamber drama that develops between these two women. There's a bit of sexual undercurrent that develops between these two women, never realized, but for me I think it’s very interesting."

Keep the Change, the closing night film for the Houston Jewish Film Festival, features autistic actors from The Manhattan JCC.
Keep the Change, the closing night film for the Houston Jewish Film Festival, features autistic actors from The Manhattan JCC.
Photo courtesy of Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center of Houston

Just as interesting but more upbeat in nature is the closing night film, Keep the Change, winner of the best narrative feature at the Tribeca Festival. Many of the cast members are autistic members of The Manhattan JCC, lending a touch of authenticity to this romantic comedy. Gross says veteran actor Jessica Walter (Arrested Development, Play Misty for Me), as well as other A-listers, lent themselves to the project because they believed in the subject. It's an uplifting film that also resonates personally for Gross, who has a family member on the spectrum.

"The title, Keep the Change, has real signifcance throughout the movie. The young man comes from a family of means. He insulted a cop and so they sentenced him to community service at The Manhattan JCC," says Gross. "Wherever they go he hands the cabdriver a $20 dollar bill and he says, 'keep the change,' but the real significance of that doesn’t come until the end."

Gross says she identified several of what she calls "cringeworthy moments" in the film, and says it's really for "anybody who has a heart."

The festival schedule itself is deep and varied, appealing to many demographics, with screenings at multiple venues around town. "The Houston Jewish Film Festival really tries to kind of put together the schedule so it’s really an arc in itself; a story arc," says Gross.

Festival Schedule:

Saturday, March 3
5 p.m., A Short with Shabbatify: Across the Line, Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center of Houston, 5601 South Braeswood, 713-551-7215, erjcchouston.org, free
8 p.m., Shelter, Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center of Houston, 5601 South Braeswood, 713-551-7215, erjcchouston.org, $12 to $18

Sunday, March 4
1 p.m., Menashe, Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center of Houston, 5601 South Braeswood, 713-551-7215, erjcchouston.org, $9 to $14
4 p.m., Norman, Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center of Houston, 5601 South Braeswood, 713-551-7215, erjcchouston.org, $9 to $14
7:30 p.m., Scaffolding, The MATCH, 3400 Main, 713-521-4533, matchouston.org, $9 to $14

Monday, March 5 (sold out)
7:30 p.m., Itzhak, Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center of Houston, 5601 South Braeswood, 713-551-7215, erjcchouston.org

Tuesday, March 6
6 and 8 p.m., The Children of Chance, Holocaust Museum Houston, 9220 Kirby, Suite 100, 713-527-1604, hmh.org, $8 to $10

Wednesday, March 7
6 p.m., Let Yourself Go, Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center of Houston, 5601 South Braeswood, 713-551-7215, erjcchouston.org, $6
8 p.m., An Act of Defiance, Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center of Houston, 5601 South Braeswood, 713-551-7215, erjcchouston.org, $9 to $14

Thursday, March 8 (sold out)
7:30 p.m., Women's Night: The Wedding Plan, Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center of Houston, 5601 South Braeswood, 713-551-7215, erjcchouston.org

Friday, March 9
1 p.m., Humor Me, Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center of Houston, 5601 South Braeswood, 713-551-7215, erjcchouston.org, $9 to $14

Saturday, March 10
7:30 p.m., Sammy Davis Jr.: I've Gotta Be Me, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1001 Bissonnet, 713-639-7515, mfah.org/films, $8 to $10

Sunday, March 11
11 a.m., The Last Band in Lebanon, Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center of Houston, 5601 South Braeswood, 713-551-7215, erjcchouston.org, $9 to $14
2 p.m., Riphagen, Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center of Houston, 5601 South Braeswood, 713-551-7215, erjcchouston.org, $9 to $14
5 p.m., Shalom Bollywood, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1001 Bissonnet, 713-639-7515, mfah.org/films, $8 to $10
7 p.m., A Quiet Heart, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1001 Bissonnet, 713-639-7515, mfah.org/films, $8 to $10

Monday, March 12
6 p.m., Shelter, Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center of Houston, 5601 South Braeswood, 713-551-7215, erjcchouston.org, $6
8 p.m., The Testament, Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center of Houston, 5601 South Braeswood, 713-551-7215, erjcchouston.org, $9 to $14

Tuesday, March 13
7:30 p.m., Chair's Choice: Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center of Houston, 5601 South Braeswood, 713-551-7215, erjcchouston.org, $9 to $14

Wednesday, March 14
7:30 p.m., Bye Bye Germany, The MATCH, 3400 Main, 713-521-4533, matchouston.org, $9 to $14

Thursday, March 15
6 p.m., Winter Hunt, Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center of Houston, 5601 South Braeswood, 713-551-7215, erjcchouston.org, $6
8 p.m., Saving Neta, Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center of Houston, 5601 South Braeswood, 713-551-7215, erjcchouston.org, $9 to $14

Saturday, March 17
6 p.m., Humor Me, Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center of Houston, 5601 South Braeswood, 713-551-7215, erjcchouston.org, $9 to $14
8:30 p.m., Love is Thicker Than Water, Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center of Houston, 5601 South Braeswood, 713-551-7215, erjcchouston.org, $9 to $14

Sunday, March 18
2 p.m., House of Z, Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center of Houston, 5601 South Braeswood, 713-551-7215, erjcchouston.org, $9 to $14
4 p.m., Afternoon of Shorts, Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center of Houston, 5601 South Braeswood, 713-551-7215, erjcchouston.org, $9 to $14
7:30 p.m., Keep the Change, Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center of Houston, 5601 South Braeswood, 713-551-7215, erjcchouston.org, $9 to $14

Tuesday, March 20
7:30 p.m., Get Cultured: Short Film Night, Axelrad Beer Garden, 1517 Alabama, 713-551-7215, erjcchouston.org, free

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