Film fest conference to open here

The conference may draw non-film professionals because "the state of Jewish film festivals mirrors the state of Jewish culture," said Deborah Kaufman, founder of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival and the conference keynote speaker. "For anybody who cares about how Jewish identity in the United States is expressed, and how people find Jewish meaning in their lives, this becomes really relevant."

Since Kaufman founded the festival 20 years ago, more than 60 Jewish film festivals have sprung up around the country, bringing with them a score of Jewish film professionals.

"Jewish film festivals have become an arena that has exploded," said Jerome Chanes, associate director of the National Foundation for Jewish Culture. "Film festival directors themselves have come to the realization that they constitute a field of Jewish culture with issues and questions that they share in common."

Kaufman's keynote address will be wide-ranging. In her overview of the past 20 years, she will discuss how the topics of Jewish films have shifted away from more historical themes, such as immigration or the labor movement, to more personal and spiritual stories.

She will also address how Jewish filmmakers deal with the "abysmal lack of funding." Although she singled out the National Foundation for Jewish Culture as being "forward thinking" in choosing the documentaries it funds, she said filmmakers may feel their creativity being stifled by the forces funding them.

"I have a dual perspective as both an organizer and a filmmaker, and in bringing together both identities, I think the picture I'm painting has some optimism and some cautionary predictions," Kaufman said.

Other sessions will focus on curatorial issues, distribution, Israeli cinema, gender and religion, budgeting and funding.

Kaufman noted that while film festivals must reflect the needs of the community that sponsor them, "they should be what great art is really about, not celebrating and being nostalgic, but being provocative.

"I don't know the direction Jewish film will take in the next 20 years, but for me, it would be sad if we celebrate the good times and feelings without questioning the aspects of Jewish communal life in the United States which need questioning."

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."