Ever been to a film festival? Ever been to a synagogue? In response to the first question, some students would say yes. In response to the second, some students would also say yes, albeit fewer affirmatives. Both attractions appeal to niche markets: Film aficionados and Jews.
The annual Atlanta Jewish Film Festival combines the relative obscurity of Judaism with the hipster coolness of vintage shopping. It would seem to follow that patrons of the festival are doubly specialized and half as numerous. Brad Pilcher, Assistant Director of the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival, explains that this isn’t the case.
“We are expecting roughly 31,000 people this year,” Pilcher said. “Surprisingly, a quarter of people who come are not Jewish. It’s a diverse group — you will get your share of young people and cinephiles, but our turn out usually skews older. There’s always people who come to see films that are a little bit different.”
Roughly 120,000 Jews call Atlanta home. Because of the nature of Jewish identity, defining one as a Jew is difficult, so accurate figures are hard to gather.
Pilcher joined the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival as a graphic designer and has garnered more responsibilities over the years. As he explains, the job of assistant director has a list of duties that are intimidating to say the least.
“Back in late 2007, I was originally hired to do the program guide for the festival,” Pilcher recounted. “Each year since then, I have had more responsibilities. I am involved in research, communications, operational logistics and programming.”
Atlanta and the world
The Atlanta Jewish Film Festival was humble at its birth and has since become an internationally known Jewish film festival. As Pilcher explains, the festival screens films from all over the world.
“The festival started in 2000, so this is the 15th annual festival,” Pilcher said. “The first festival had around 5,000 people attend and was virtually unknown. After this, the festival just blew up — it grew astronomically from there. Now, we are expecting more than 31,000 people and it’s the second largest Jewish film festival in the world.”
The Atlanta Jewish Film Festival selects films to screen in an active and lengthy process.
“We evaluate 550 to 600 films a year,” said Pilcher. “The committee members really have three questions to answer about a film before it is selected.”
According to Pilcher, the questions asked are: 1) “What is the quality — is it a good film?” 2) “Would it be relevant to a Jewish film festival?” 3) “Would you recommend the film for the festival?”
“It needs to communicate of aspect of the Jewish experience in a creative way,” Pilcher said. “If the film is of quality, displays some aspect of the Jewish experience and is recommended by the evaluation committee, we will screen it.”
The Atlanta Jewish Film Festival is abnormal in its selection process. Whereas most film festivals will receive submissions and accept some of them, the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival takes an active role in seeking films to show. It’s a difficult and lengthy research process according to Pilcher.
For more information
|The 15th Atlanta Jewish Film Festival: 65 films, 50 feature-length, 15 shorts. The schedule and a list of this year’s films can be found on the festival’s website. Tickets are $10 for students with a valid student I.D. The festival opens on Jan. 28th at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre.|
“In any niche festival, there are fewer films being raw submitted,” revealed Pilcher. “An average festival would have five or six times as many films. We do a lot of active research to find films — we don’t generate much revenue from submission fees. Only about 15 – 20 percent of our films are blind submissions. This is good and bad; on average, our films are of a higher quality, but it takes more time and research to find them.
From the people, for the people
The Atlanta Jewish Film Festival has a fundamentally different relationship with its patrons. As mentioned, the staff of the festival exhausts extensive research and effort to finding films. This practice is expensive, but they do it because they care about the viewer experience. It also fosters a highly dedicated group of annual attendees.
Many festivals with a limited staff and imposing financial constraints would cut some corners. Pilcher is adamant about producing the best possible experience for viewers, no matter the sacrifice.
“We have six full-time staff and more that come during different periods,” Pilcher said. “During winter, we focus on logistics and preparation, but during summer, we do a lot of film evaluation and viewings.”
Pilcher says many film festivals try to cram as many screenings in one day as they can. It’s more cost-effective this way. The Atlanta Jewish Film Festival chooses to not do this. They spread out the festival to last 24 days with only a few showings each day. That way, it will be easier for people to work the festival into their schedules.
“We wanted to spread it out for two reasons,” Pilcher explained. “We’re a local festival. We realize that people work and have lives of their own — we don’t expect them to block off their schedules just for the festival. We have venues all over Atlanta to make it easier for people to see the films.”
This year, there are 65 films, 50 of which are feature-length, leaving 15 short films. The schedule and a list of this year’s films can be found on the festival’s website. Tickets are $10 for students with a valid student I.D. The festival opens on Jan. 28 at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre.