Topic: A Case Study: The Maine Jewish Film FestivalBrochure for the 2004 Maine Jewish Film Festival.
While other small festivals frame themselves as primarily Jewish events and celebrations of Jewish life, the Maine Jewish Film Festival (MJFF) has strategically positioned itself as a much broader community-wide event. Their mission statement notes that they strive “to provide a forum for the presentation of films to enrich, educate and entertain a diverse community about the Jewish experience.”
Like many other festivals, the MJFF began as a short screening series in a local synagogue. Congregation Bet Ha’am in South Portland hosted the first festival in 1997 when screenings consisted of rented videos projected in the synagogue space. By 1999 the festival was screening 19 films, hosting one filmmaker from abroad each year, and garnering support from local businesses, Jewish and non-Jewish foundations including the community arts council and a major Portland philanthropist.
In 2000 the festival split off from the synagogue to become an independent entity, and continued to grow. It has consistently attracted large audiences, screened popular films like The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg and Kadosh, raised significant funds from varied sources and generated extensive local press coverage. Their success can be attributed in part to the highly professionalized leadership structure of the festival, consisting of an active board, which emphasizes fundraising and meticulous financial record-keeping. Their archive of all festival documents (business meeting minutes, budgets, etc.) in an impressive collection similar to that of the San Francisco festival.
A Broad Approach:
The festival directors emphasize relationship building with the local government, arts council and economic development institutions. In turn, these institutions view the festival not only as a cultural celebration but as a key community-wide event that generates income and activity in downtown Portland. The city’s mayor referred to the festival as “a positive contribution to the cultural life of the city, as well as an important part of our downtown economic development strategy.”
The MJFF’s advertising and programming reveal a focus on diverse audience-building; thematic 'anchor programs' tie in local institutions to help generate audiences in demographic areas like youth, seniors, a Women Filmmakers Forum, a Gay/Lesbian Film Project, and a Yom Hashoah Film Project. But the festival has also broadened outside these frameworks. In 2003 the festival’s Crossing Cultures program consisted of a photographic exhibit titled Documenting Intolerance held at the nearby Salt Institute for Documentary Studies. The exhibit focused on photography of the civil rights movement and other human rights struggles but had no specifically Jewish content. That same year the festival screened Black to the Promised Land as an open program for high school students to kick off a three-year series on Black/ Jewish dialogue.
1. How does the location and demographic makeup of Portland affect the festival’s content and style in comparison with festivals supported by larger Jewish communities like Boston and New York? (see www.bjff.org and www.nyjff.org) How does it compare to other smaller festivals, which are tied more closely to Jewish funding organizations (i.e. Rutgers Festival)?
2. Consider coverage of the festival in the popular press. (See article links below) How do journalists write about the festival for both Jewish and non-Jewish readers and what are the implications of these representations? Which parts of the festival are highlighted in the coverage and which are ignored?