Once upon a time, movie buffs Abe and Carmen Tesser wondered whether the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival would expand eastward and use a newly opened art house theater in Athens, Ciné, as one of its venues.
The Atlanta folks had other ideas and wanted to keep things close to home. When the expansion didn’t happen, the Tessers and several other Athens residents decided in 2008 to stage a film festival of their own, which they launched in 2009.
“It was the right thing at the right time,” Abe Tesser said. “We wanted it to be a community event, not just something for Jews.”
The Athens Jewish Film Festival in March is celebrating its 10th year of screening films from around the globe that showcase new directors and that focus on Jewish life, traditions and history. The festival also has partnered with Georgia Humanities and the Willson Center for Humanities & Arts at the University of Georgia to feature other events throughout the year.
“Well, we’ve lasted longer than the well-known Robert Osborne Classic Film Festival,” said longtime board member Ron Zell, the festival’s 2018 president.
He said last year was the only time the festival didn’t turn a profit, but he isn’t sure the festival can continue operating as it has.
Getting donations is becoming more difficult, Zell said. The board is made up of volunteers, none of whom is a professional salesperson. Festival volunteers work hard to keep the ticket costs low so that people won’t be priced out of attending.
“What is the future for our festival?” Zell said. “It’s difficult to maintain the status quo, as the board is made up of only 13 members plus two associates doing the bulk of the work. We need new blood to advance the festival.”
This year’s celebration began with a free showing of “The Band’s Visit” at Ciné in January. The theater was crowded with more than 100 people, Tesser said, “and it wasn’t just Jews. It was a lot of other people from the community.”
Some of the events draw Jews who do not belong to Athens’ Congregation Children of Israel but want to connect with their heritage, he said.
The five-day 10th anniversary festival opens with a gala at the Georgia Museum of Art on Saturday, March 24, that includes dinner, drinks and a showing of the Israeli film “The Women’s Balcony,” which closed the 2017 Atlanta Jewish Film Festival.
Zell said the board decided to increase from last year’s four days that films are shown and not to schedule screenings late at night. Movies this year come from Germany, Israel, Russia, Ukraine, Australia and the United States.
The last day features a series of short films — from the United States, France and Canada — and the presentation of an award for the best short, followed by a showing of the award-winning documentary “Body and Soul: An American Bridge” and a closing party at Hotel Indigo.
A festival pass, including all the films and the closing night party, is $45. The opening night gala is $65. Individual film tickets are available at Ciné 15 minutes before show time. The closing night party alone is $10. Visit athensjff.org.
The festival has become an established feature in Athens, something the community looks forward to and often helps with. The ushers at this year’s screenings are members of Holy Cross Lutheran Church.
The Tessers remember the first year, when the event was getting its nonprofit status and board members scrambled to get the word out. Now a social media presence keeps people informed.
“Opportunities like the Jewish Film Festival are just one reason I love Athens,” Realtor Jane Mayer said. “I love the variety of films they present and look forward to it each year.”
The Festival Schedule
All events are at Ciné unless otherwise noted.
Saturday, March 24
Opening gala, 6 p.m., Georgia Museum of Art
“The Women’s Balcony,” 8 p.m.
Sunday, March 25
“Monkey Business: The Adventures of Curious George’s Creators,” 2 p.m.
“Tevye’s Daughters,” 4 p.m.
“Monsieur Mayonnaise,” 6:45 p.m.
Wednesday, March 28
Closing night shorts and awards, 5 p.m.
“Body and Soul: An American Bridge,” 6:15 p.m.
Closing night party, 7:30 p.m., Rialto Club at Hotel Indigo