The opening-night gala for the 23-day Atlanta Jewish Film Festival greeted 850 in-crowders and movie aficionados Tuesday, Jan. 26, at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre.

The Sweet Sixteen-themed gala for the 16th festival featured food from local and Israeli celebrity chefs, an open bar, and live entertainment.

“I am honored to have been chair of this event and to work with Kenny Blank and his amazing team,” said Martha Jo Katz, one of Atlanta’s most admired former professional models. “This opening night brought together a dazzling array of vendors and volunteers allowing it to be not only beautiful, but also successful. I had so many guests say, ‘This is the most enjoyable and fun event of the year.’ That is the highest compliment for me and all the people who work so hard to bring this opening night to fruition.”

Mark Kopkin, in a custom-made sports jacket, poses with Tami Wecksler in David Meister from Neiman Marcus. Charles David shoes complete her look.

Mark Kopkin, in a custom-made sports jacket, poses with Tami Wecksler in David Meister from Neiman Marcus. Charles David shoes complete her look.

Ever elegant, Martha Jo donned a Vince silk blouse, Ralph Lauren Black Label velveteen pants and silk shantung Neiman Marcus jacket. Her earrings were by Israeli-born designer Roni Blanshay.

The ballroom was spacious and vibrant with plumages of hot-pink feathers and opalescent lighted rectangular stands.

Restaurants and chefs participating in the gala included Bistro Niko, Davio’s Northern Italian Steakhouse, Del Frisco’s Grille, Dolce, For All Occasions & More, The General Muir, Ouzeria, Paces & Vine, Il Giallo Osteria & Bar, Restaurant Eugene, Rumi’s Kitchen, South City Kitchen, Sprinkles Cupcakes, and Batdorf & Bronson.

Murmurs last year were that the food was too seafood-oriented, but the pendulum swung back by over-featuring beef this year.

My favorite was The General Muir’s salmon gefilte fish, which was a far cry from the traditional pickly, jarred oval bites. Asked what “gefilte” means to salmon, chef/owner Todd Ginsberg said, “It’s chopped Scottish salmon with ground matzah.”

One of the most popular and creative vendors was Tel Aviv’s Ouzeria with a buffet of authentic and varied tastes, starting with fish wrapped in katafia pastry over avocado cream and ending in a tehina panna cotta silan dessert. Chef Yonit Stern was especially sentimental because one of the festival’s documentaries, “Every Face Has a Name,” includes her mother’s plight as a survivor.

Caterer Sandra Bank and her husband, Clive, extolled Ouzeria’s cuisine as their favorite of the night.

Ina Pinkney, star of her own documentary, “Breakfast at Ina’s,” was sampling Davio’s mushroom gnocchi. She said: “I love the hospitality in Atlanta. I was here before at a Les Dames d’Escoffier event and am thrilled to premiere my movie here.”

Impresario George Lefont said the opening-night movie, “Remember,” although not scheduled for a second festival screening, will be shown at his theater in Sandy Springs during its general release.

Prompted to choose one film, AJFF Executive Director Kenny Blank said, “I think ‘Song of Songs’ will be the most poetic and artistic for our Atlanta audience.” The film is a tableau of Russian shtetl life inspired by the folklore of Sholem Aleichem.

Blank’s sidekick was Lesli Greenberg, the festival’s development director, who was dressed in a multizippered, black, midlength knee dress by Marc Jacobs.

The late Joan Rivers was there in spirit as we experienced one of Atlanta’s tastiest red carpets with a Jewish twist.

Photos by Eli Gray, Gray Imaging