Kenny Blank, executive director, Atlanta Jewish Film Festival
The film festival, which started as a program of the American Jewish Committee, broke free in 2014. While the festival’s goal remains consistent with the AJC’s mission — to combat anti-Semitism through community outreach and interreligious cultural understanding — its independence provides the chance for expansion.
With a background in film and television, Blank was invited to chair the film selection committee. After years of expanding ambitions for the festival, the AJC selected Blank to diversify the films and to grow the festival’s profile as its first executive director.
Blank made the AJFF an organization for artistic display, not just social activism. He expanded the repertoire to include more abstract and foreign films and a variety of perspectives. The festival became attractive to the broader arts and cultural community, even receiving a grant from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2006.
The festival is a creative and artistic outlet for Jews to experience their Judaism beyond what synagogues offer. It’s one thing for Jews to experience being Jewish around other Jews. The AJFF’s films show Jewish life from other cultural perspectives to audiences of Jews and non-Jews, fostering multicultural understanding.
Under Blank, the AJFF has become the largest Jewish film festival in the world, with more than 38,600 attendees this year. It is a far-reaching force of Jewish culture, education and advocacy.
“I saw an opportunity to attract a much larger audience around a whole variety of topics,” Blank said, “not just the Jewish community, but the larger community. That was really part of the core mission of the festival from the inception.”