The Arty Semite

Why Jewish Film Festivals Are So Important

By Olivia Antsis

  • Print
  • Share Share

Thirty-four years ago, in two American cities on opposite coasts, a group of visionaries developed what would one day become one of the most powerful vehicles for connecting Diaspora Jews to their culture: the Jewish film festival.

With numerous scholarly works and studies devoted to dissecting the state of modern Jewry in America, the increasing popularity of Jewish film festivals has made one fact abundantly clear: Jews crave a meaningful connection to their roots. With over 100 Jewish Film Festivals in existence today, Jews all over the world flock to theaters anticipating an authentic connection to their heritage. For some Jews, participation in their local Jewish Film Festival is the only way in which they feel Jewish.

Does such a statement justify the prevailing attitude among Jewish leaders and professionals that the fabric of our once vibrant and engaged Jewish community is in danger of unraveling? While widely debated studies like the 2013 Pew survey of American Jewry points to a steady decline in religious identification and a significant rise in interfaith marriage, what do these statistics actually say about today’s Jewish community except that it is continually changing, evolving, and presenting new challenges?

As a Jewish professional working in the Jewish world, I have observed many of my colleagues grow disheartened by the possibility that the progress we have made in preserving Jewish culture is in danger of being compromised. My trepidation is that too much credence is being given to the results of quantitative surveys and not enough consideration is being paid to programs that are already working to establish a vibrant Jewish community.

As director of the Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival for over six years, I have been told again and again how important the Festival has been to people’s lives. Phrases like “It makes me feel proud to be Jewish” or “It makes me feel like I am really part of a community” are common.

In the past decade, Jewish film festivals around the world have not only proven successful in serving diverse populations of the Jewish community, but they have begun to expand their reach to other groups. Through their extensive outreach efforts and opportunities for cross-cultural programming and marketing, Jewish film festivals have proved the potential to grow and attract new and engaged audiences. Since the exclusivity once coveted by American Jewish communities to satisfy their need for safety and acceptance is no longer necessary, it really is the scope, breadth, and quality of Jewish film programming that makes the model of the Jewish film festival so inviting and engaging.

Through the power of compelling stories, Jewish film festivals have penetrated to the heart of what moves us and accomplished the difficult feat of unifying Jews of varying religious affiliations and denominations, as well as bringing together Jews of competing ideologies and political leanings. This is because Jewish film festivals work hard to cultivate a neutral platform for the exchange of ideas and the sharing of experiences. Not only have younger and older generations discovered a common language and understanding through film, but Jews who want to share their history, culture, and heritage with their non-Jewish friends are now able to do so in an open and welcoming environment.

It is my hope that Jewish film festivals continue to evolve and adapt, as this will ensure both growth and longevity. In my six years serving the Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival I have witnessed the immense impact of my work. I have watched PJFF’s audience double and I have listened to patrons wax poetic about how films they viewed at our festival changed their perspectives and opened their hearts and minds to new possibilities. This feeling of making a difference in my community is just one of the many reasons why I love my job and why no matter where life leads me, I will always support my local Jewish film festival.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival, Film

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Yeshiva University's lawyer wanted to know why the dozens of former schoolboys now suing over a sexual abuse cover-up didn't sue decades ago. Read the judge's striking response here.
  • It’s over. The tyranny of the straight-haired, button nosed, tan-skinned girl has ended. Jewesses rejoice!
  • It's really, really, really hard to get kicked out of Hebrew school these days.
  • "If Netanyahu re-opens the settlement floodgates, he will recklessly bolster the argument of Hamas that the only language Israel understands is violence."
  • Would an ultra-Orthodox leader do a better job of running the Met Council?
  • So, who won the war — Israel or Hamas?
  • 300 Holocaust survivors spoke out against Israel. Did they play right into Hitler's hands?
  • Ari Folman's new movie 'The Congress' is a brilliant spectacle, an exhilarating visual extravaganza and a slapdash thought experiment. It's also unlike anything Forward critic Ezra Glinter has ever seen. http://jd.fo/d4unE
  • The eggplant is beloved in Israel. So why do Americans keep giving it a bad rap? With this new recipe, Vered Guttman sets out to defend the honor of her favorite vegetable.
  • “KlezKamp has always been a crazy quilt of gay and straight, religious and nonreligious, Jewish and gentile.” Why is the klezmer festival shutting down now?
  • “You can plagiarize the Bible, can’t you?” Jill Sobule says when asked how she went about writing the lyrics for a new 'Yentl' adaptation. “A couple of the songs I completely stole." Share this with the theater-lovers in your life!
  • Will Americans who served in the Israeli army during the Gaza operation face war crimes charges when they get back home?
  • Talk about a fashion faux pas. What was Zara thinking with the concentration camp look?
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.