19 Years…and That’s a Wrap!
AJFF Director David Finkel with a group from the film “Majesty and Tenderness”: SAMFA Collection Manager Laura Romer Huckaby, filmmaker Vanessa Reiser, producer Ben Livingston, and son of the film’s subject, Josh Schmidt. Mr. and Mrs. Maurice Schmidt (the film’s subject) are in the front row. Photo courtesy of AJFF.
By Wendy Corn
When it comes to an independent film festival, the best way to treat it is as a local organization that needs support in order to survive. The Austin Jewish Film Festival (AJFF) managed to thrive among a host of challenges, including a pandemic, a change in theater location, and a new hybrid format. Despite those obstacles, the fest had high awareness and visibility with excellent across-the- board media coverage in TV, radio, print, and web.
Setting the tone was a successful pre-festival kick-off reception for “The New Jew,” a popular Israeli series hosted by Guri Alfi. 175 people were in attendance on November 2 at Congregation Agudas Achim to enjoy a reception, watch the first episode, and hear from Guri Alfi and producer Asaf Nawi in person. All episodes were made available to watch on AJFF’s online streaming platform.
Panelists from the “Marry Me However” pre-recorded Q&A. Credit: David Finkel.
Amanda Nathan serves homemade Sholeh-zard as part of AJFF’s Persian themed closing night reception. Credit: David Finkel.
The festival was presented at the Galaxy Highland Theater as well as online, and ran from November 11-16, showing 55 films from 23 countries and in 15 languages. Of these, “Majesty and Tenderness,” a World Premiere, included filmmaker Vanessa Reiser, producer Ben Livingston, San Angelo Museum of Fine Art Collections Manager Laura Romer Huckaby, and son of the film’s subject, Josh Schmidt onsite for a post-film Q&A at the Galaxy. AJFF further hosted five U.S. premieres and twenty-six Texas premieres of the thirty-five films screened at the Galaxy Highland.
Also included were performances from Carol Kane’s debut film, “Hester Street” (1975), exhibited in the newly restored 4K version, and Ed Asner’s last feature film role as Samuel in “Tiger Within.” AJFF presented eighteen pre-recorded Zoom Q&A discussions with filmmakers from around the world and made these available to both in person and virtual audience members. Closing night was “Persian Lessons,” a new Holocaust dramedy by internationally acclaimed director Vadim Perelman. The film was preceded by a Persian themed reception and followed by a live Q&A over Zoom with Perelman who spoke to the festival from Moscow, Russia in the wee hours of the morning.
Moving the venue to the Galaxy Highland Theaters brought a number of benefits:
- Multiple screens offering a choice of films in all timeslots.
- Huge, power reclining seats in all theaters.
- On-site themed parties for Opening and Closing nights.
- Easy access from all over the city with abundant free parking.
The entire event was volunteer-run and received highly positive feedback from the surveyed audiences. “While we saw limited attendance in person at the theater, we felt it was important to give people the choice to watch on the big screen or to view from home depending on each patron’s preference,” says AJFF Director David Finkel. “This explains our tongue-in-cheek tagline, ‘Oy Vey, Enjoy it Your Way.’ “
The festival received strong support from the community, with overall fundraising returning approaching pre-pandemic levels. AJFF deepened partnerships and established new relationships with Shalom Austin, Galaxy Theaters, Kind Snacks, Austin PBS, The Loewy Law Firm, The City of Austin Cultural Arts Division, Cooky and David Goldblatt, Jeanne and Mickey Klein, Dr. Michelle and David Lubetsky, The Shuk, Brown Distributing, Tito’s Vodka, Topo Chico, and the Jewish Fund for Israel, among others.
Oud player Josh Peters provides entertainment for closing night participants as part of AJFF’s closing night Persian themed reception. Credit: David Finkel.
“We are so grateful to all the individuals, businesses, synagogues, film festivals, and other organizations that supported us running a festival during a very trying year. We really couldn’t have done this without everyone’s help!” said Finkel.
AJFF365—the year-round component of the Austin Jewish Film Festival—has been popular due to the high quality of its program lineup, including its upcoming participation in the first national Hanukkah Film Festival, available in many communities across the U.S. Eleven films will be released a few at a time each night (just like lighting candles), starting on the first night of Hanukkah, November 28. AJFF365 subscribers, Combo Pass holders, Chai, Presenter, and Premium Members will be able to participate for free in AJFF’s offering of this festival. AJFF365 will also present a free film in December, “On Broadway,” as well as a live over Zoom Q&A with its director, Oren Jacoby.
AJFF is looking forward to its 20th year in 2022 and hopes all lives will have returned to normal by then, so friends old and new can gather for the next festival.
To become a member or take out an AJFF365 subscription at any time, visit AustinJFF.org. ■
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