Unit: Film Festivals
Brochure for the 2004 BAM Brooklyn Jewish Film Festival Beyond Fidler: Jewish Tradition & Transformation.
Since the early 1980’s, we have witnessed an explosion of Jewish film festivals across North America and Europe. Beginning with the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival founded in 1980 by Deborah Kaufman and Janice Plotkin, the phenomenon spread to large Eastern cities (New York, Boston, Washington), to smaller cities and towns (Kansas City, Portland, Seattle, Tulsa, Rochester) and to venues abroad (London, Berlin, Hong Kong). Nearly every city in the States now hosts some form of Jewish film festival, from week-long, multi-venue events comprised of crossover titles (Jewish films that played successfully in non-Jewish venues), to weekend film series, which employ local synagogues as screening spaces and project a mix of rented Blockbuster titles along with hits gleaned from the larger festivals like San Francisco and New York.
The meanings of this phenomenon are open to interpretation, indeed eager interpretation, by many sides. Though there is little analysis of the film festivals movement in academic circles to date, policy arms of the Jewish organizational world have eagerly embraced the phenomenon, studying and mining it for clues about the prospect of such cultural Jewish expression functioning as a stepping stone to an ever-elusive policy goal of Jewish continuity. Mix in a few controversial films about Israeli politics or about gay and lesbian orthodox Jews, and we have the setting for scenes of intriguing cultural clash between a small town Jewish film festival and the Israeli Consulate serving as its sponsor.
How can we interpret this fast-growing expression of Jewish identity from the vantage points of both the audiences and the mediamakers?
In what ways do film festivals reconfigure current constructions of North American Jewish identity and in what ways do they repeat prior patterns?
How do the particularities of various film festivals reflect differences in Jewish identities as they are constructed in different parts of the States and Europe?
How has this spontaneous expression of Jewish cultural identity subsequently been deployed by Jewish policy organizations to fit into a preexisting agenda about Jewish continuity?
How do audiences themselves conceive of and articulate their experiences at the festivals and the meanings behind their participation?
This unit is broken into three topics -- Film Fests as Religious Events, Maine: A Case Study, and Culture Meets Continuity -- with a short introduction, key questions, suggested lessons and resources for each.
Plotkin, Janis. "Film Festival: A Letter to My Successors," National Foundation for Jewish Culture Newsletter (spring 2003): 11, 13.