What to expect at the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival: Cultivating diversity beyond the camera lens

Fire Birds directed by Amir I. Wolf Photos submitted | Atlanta Jewish Film Festival
‘East LA Interchange’ directed by Betsy Kalin Photos submitted | Atlanta Jewish Film Festival

The anticipation is almost over, as the annual Atlanta Jewish Film Festival makes final preparations for another successful season.  On Jan.  26, the 23-day festival will screen 77 local and international films at various venues throughout the city.

The Atlanta Jewish Film Festival is one of the largest film festivals in Atlanta. Associate Director of AJFF, Brad Pilcher describes what film fanatics can expect at the festival.

How many screening will AJFF have this year, and how are the films distributed throughout the city?

Pilcher: “We will have a 169 screenings, plus a day of encores on the 17th, so it will be closer to a 182 total for the festival. Those screenings will be spread out across 23 days at eight different theatres and venues around the area.”

Fire Birds directed by Amir I. Wolf Photos submitted | Atlanta Jewish Film Festival

Where will the screenings take place, and how often will each film be played?

Pilcher: “Opening night will be at Cobb Energy center and that will just be a screening of Remember, and the next day we start the SCAD show. the Merchants Walk location is pretty popular location. All of our theatre venues do very well, and we go out our way to be being very careful on which theatres to hold screenings. We are running at least two theatres at time, everyday, so on any giving day we are screening in sandy springs or midtown or atlantic station, it’s all over the map. The films are evenly dispersed, and these specific screening times are on the websites and program guides. Most of the films get at least two or three screenings, and while other films get four or five screenings throughout the course of the festival.”

How many submissions does the AJFF receive?

Pilcher:  “We get close to 700 films over the course of a six month period. After evaluating those films there are 100 to 150 finalist from which we program in the festival. It’s not easy, a committee of filmmakers, critics, as well as film lovers help us watch these films and evaluate them. We meet every couple of weeks, over the course of six months to discuss submissions.”

What have you experienced from working with AJFF?

Pilcher: “I’ve been an associate director since 2012, and working for a film festival is incredibly intense. It’s a great joy to come and work with the staff who purely love the experience.”
Who is in charge of selecting the films that are played during the festivals?

Pilcher: “Ultimately, the final film decision will reside with the senior staff. It’s important to have a broader base of the community involved into looking at these films to really determine which ones are powerful enough. We made enough to be showcased in part of our lineup and the ones that will resonate with you will be the most interesting to the community.”

The Divorce directed by David Scheinmann and Danny Scheinmann Photos submitted | Atlanta Jewish Film Festival

What role does the community play in the success of the AJFF?

Pilcher: “We are a jewish film festival, but we are also a community film festival for Atlanta. We really go out our way to find films that have a broad appeal, and that show different “slices” of the community (Muslim, catholic, christian,african-american, hispanic) they all have something jewish in them, but it doesn’t have to be all in compensation, it doesn’t have to be the “smoltzy” stuff that you think of. It’s not all about holocaust documentaries.”

How is the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival cultivating diversity?

Pilcher: “We feel like this is the safe space for everybody to come together, in a movie theatre, to learn about each other and learn about themselves.We go out of our way to find those films that showcase that. The reason we run as long as we do is because of audience demand.”

As the organization expands, how is the festival meeting the audience’s demand?

Pilcher: The Audience demand is through the roof. We work very hard at trying to give them as many opportunities as possible. Last year we had 38,600 festival goers over the 23 days. We sold out 60 percent of our screenings, 25 percent were pretty close to “Sell-out” status. The audience wants more, we do our best to meet that demand, and that’s what really drives the wings of the festival. We’ve sold roughly 60 percent of the inventory, even though there are still tons of tickets left. We always encourage them to come and buy. It’s a constant effort on our part to educate our audience to let them know.”

What are the themes of the film? Does it have to incorporate judaism?

Pilcher: “Yes, it’s a question we get a lot. There’s needs be something on screen, during filming that reflect some aspect of the jewish experience. With that being said, it also doesn’t have to be the central focus of that film. We have films that you wouldn’t think are jewish films. This year we have a film called “Children of Giants,” a documentary about a film called “Giant” that was put out in 1956. It was one of the 1st films coming out of hollywood to tackle prejudice and racism against mexican-americans in a very open way. This film talked about the latino community in a way that was never seen before.”

How would you define the vision of the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival?  

Pilcher: “For us, we see film as a safe space and a universal environment. Everybody can feel comfortable going into that  environment, and focus themselves onto the film. Film goers can easily become more immersed, educated and entertained by the films. It sparks an introspection and dialogue. We want to show the best films, that’s our mission everyday.”

For anyone that has never been to a film festival, what can they expect?

Pilcher: “Take the biggest opening night for an anticipating film. Now imagine that happening all day long throughout the week for three weeks. Its very energetic, there are so many people that get there early, good seating , conversations beforehand and buzz going all around. People should be prepared for the sheer energy of the number people attending these film festivals.We have a lot of sell-outs, and it’s a great experience. If you’re interested in film or history stories, it’s one of best exhibitionist experiences you’ll ever have. You really are swept up in the community that the festival has.”

800 Jews from Our Town directed by Filip Luft Photos submitted | Atlanta Jewish Film Festival


–       The list of films featured at the event this year is located on the http://ajff.org/films website.

–       Program Guides are suggested for film fanatics that would like to keep track of the daily screenings and events. A downloadable PDF of the 2016 AJFF program guide can be found online.