The opening night gala for the 23-day 2017 Atlanta Jewish Film Festival greeted 900 community leaders and movie aficionados Tuesday, Jan. 25, at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre before 2,300 people watched the Emma Thompson-Brendan Gleeson movie “Alone in Berlin.”
The star-themed gala reception, open only to patrons and sponsors, featured tastings of food by local and Israeli celebrity chefs, as well as an open bar.
Martha Jo Katz, the event chair and one of Atlanta’s most admired former professional models, said: “Tonight is all about our star-studded event. Kenny Blank is my star. Also, I’m excited about Art Smith of Southern Art, who was at one time Oprah’s chef.”
Ever elegant, Martha Jo donned a flowing, sleeved, star-patterned Ralph Lauren blouse. She had coordinated star rhinestones on her shoes and earrings. Lauren is in now because Melania Trump wore his couture at the inauguration.
Festival Executive Director Kenny Blank said: “I’m thrilled that the community reconnects at this event. We step away from our everyday lives to immerse ourselves in film.”
I spotted the stars immediately.
The director of the night’s film, “Alone in Berlin,” Parisian Vincent Perez, was fabulously continental (not to mention the oo-la-la accent).
“Alone in Berlin,” he said, “is a true story that had to be told about the beauty of love and how life can be rebuilt after the death of a child.” He said it took 10 years to pull the film together but about one year to shoot it.
Another elegant couple came from Poland to be featured the following two nights at screenings of their movie “Zacma: Blindness.” Actress Maria Mamona was wrapped in a blush tone-on-tone two-piece ensemble. Her husband, director Ryszard Bugajski, also was on hand.
Their film is an art-house drama based on actual events before and after the collapse of Stalinism in Poland. Mamona portrays a sadistic Jewish investigator for the security service.
Inside, the ballroom was spacious and vibrant with floating globes making for short wait lines.
Restaurants participating in the gala were Atlas, Buckhead Diner, Davio’s Northern Italian Steakhouse, Ecco, the General Muir, il Giallo Osteria & Bar, Imperial Fez, Nan, Sotto Sotto, Taco Cowboy, Ouzeria, Southern Art Bourbon Bar, and Batdorf & Bronson Coffee Roasters, with desserts offered by Piece of Cake, Southern Baked Pie Co. and Tiff’s Treats.
After murmurs last year that the food was too beef-oriented, the pendulum swung back by overfeaturing mushrooms and cream in many dishes.
The only kosher vendor, Jodie Sturgeon of For All Occasions and More, served smoked turkey sausage, bourbon-smoked mushroom bites, and pareve, hazelnut chocolate-filled doughnuts.
Buckhead’s Southern Art provided the most colorful display with pickled and raw vegetables, rosemary cheddar biscuits, sliders, sorghum butter and chipotle deviled eggs.
Ecco (Fifth Group) had exotic pickled salmon with shredded beets and crème fraiche atop a blini waffle. First-time chef participant Michael Patria said, “I’m excited about this crowd of folks who appreciate good food.”
Israel’s consul general to the Southeast, Ambassador Judith Varnai Shorer, enjoyed Yonit Stern’s display, featuring the menu of chef Avivit Priel, who owns two restaurants in Tel Aviv. The beet root ravioli stuffed with goat cheese won the prize for color.
Movie fans weighed in.
Deborah Harris, a native of Rome, Ga., was looking forward to “There Are Jews Here,” about the struggle of Jewish communities in small-town America. She said Rome is in jeopardy of losing its 125-year-old synagogue, and “that would be very disturbing.”
Marilyn and Ron Winston wanted comedy and picked “The Pickle Recipe” as their future fave.
Helen Kasten, who had just returned from South Africa, was looking forward to the levity of “The Last Laugh,” an exploration of the taboo topic of Holocaust humor and its implications for free speech.
Mayoral candidate Ceasar Mitchell, the president of the Atlanta City Council, was shaking a lot of hands. “My relationship with the Jewish community is organic,” he said. “I have made trips to Israel and been to AIPAC policy conferences.”
Joan Rivers was once again missed but would have been proud of Atlanta’s red-carpet showing.