Closing night at the Woodruff Arts Center’s Symphony Hall drew 1,500 people, 100 more than attended the finale in 2016. Overall, festival attendance totaled about 37,500, an increase of 1,500 from the previous year and second in festival history to the 38,631 who attended the 2015 festival. (The San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, which reported drawing more than 40,000 last summer, has regained the unofficial title of the world’s largest Jewish film festival.)
AJFF Chair Spring Asher credited this year’s festival with expansion through more access. She likened the festival to a community gathering place — “like a bar and grill without the booze” — and referred to a statement by author and New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who recently said that our most valuable and current themes are living the Golden Rule and maintaining a strong sense of community.
“The Women’s Balcony,” a nominee for multiple Israeli Academy Awards, was by no means a home run. Some said it was too long and predictable and only mildly entertaining.
“I enjoyed ‘The Women’s Balcony’ because it was a delightful Israeli comedy that didn’t take itself too seriously,” avid moviegoer and frequent usher Sandy Bailey said. “An important part of the scenery is the food that is served for any and every occasion. The actresses are all excellent, as they showed the community how strong and determined they were.”
Rhoda Weber said she was happy that the festival ended on a lighthearted note.
About the festival overall, Shelley Kaplan said: “I wasn’t wild about this year’s selections. Usually they are all fabulous. Many were questionable as to the Jewish content. My favorite was ‘Keep Quiet.’ ”
On the other hand, Bunny and Charles Rosenberg said they attended about a dozen movies and think that this year’s festival surpassed last year in quality. Their favorites were “Aida’s Secret” and “Riphagen: The Untouchable.” But “we thought opening night, ‘Alone in Berlin,’ was poorly placed.”
Eric Miller made an impactful statement about the role of the festival. “The AJFF is all about meeting the filmmakers, actors and directors close up in this intimate setting. My individual favorite was ‘The Freedom to Marry,’ based on a 32-year study and Harvard research about the marriage equality movement. It was a stunning, groundbreaking conversation.”
Overall, I thought the festival was weak on the bookends (opening and closing nights) but bejeweled and fascinating in the middle. My two surprise treasures were “Ben Gurion, Epilogue” and “Bang! The Bert Berns Story.”
Being from a small town, I couldn’t sleep after seeing “There Are Jews Here.” “The Green Park” made me nostalgic for New York’s Concord and Grossinger’s-type resorts, where we ate six meals a day, saw Alan King and Peter Allen, and mingled with a mink-clad crowd.
Now to Netflix to ascertain how to see the many films we couldn’t jam into our schedules during the festival’s 23 days.
Watch for a day of encore screenings of the festival’s biggest hits Sunday, March 5, at Georgia Theatre Co.’s Merchants Walk Cinemas in East Cobb.