During the past few years the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival has not only become one of the largest Jewish film festivals in the world, but a source of new and innovative programming year-round. Recently I spoke with Kenny Blank, the executive director of the festival about its latest project, Cinebash, being held Saturday evening, June 23, at Contemporary Art on Atlanta’s Westside.
AJT: Why did you want to do Cinebash?
Blank: There are really two drivers of this. Part of delivering on our vision as a separate non-profit is to start producing different kinds of programming throughout the year that would reach new audiences. Cinebash fits into that strategic goal of having different offerings throughout the year for different audiences.
The second consideration is finding different ways to celebrate Jewish film and what that means. Cinebash is not a traditional film screening. It is taking a film artist, Saul Bass, and Jewish film culture, and exploring it through a kind of multi-media, multi-sensory immersive experience.
This event will combine art, food, music and different design elements in really creative, innovative ways and allow people to literally step into these worlds.
AJT: Is Cinebash an attempt to reach younger audiences?
Blank: Anyone who likes a great party or a unique experience, whatever your age, will come and find something that will appeal to them. In the branding we have not emphasized the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival aspect of this or the AJFF brand because we want to reach new audiences and invite them in. We want to reinforce this idea that all the programming we do has something for everyone.
AJT: How did you did you develop Cinebash?
Blank: This is an AJFF production. Danny Davis is the producer and the creative vision behind this, but the concept is ours. It was partially inspired by the “Art Party” we did for several years as part of the Festival.
With Cinebash we wanted to take that kind of experience outside the annual festival and give it a place to shine during the calendar year. We also wanted to produce it at a higher level and promote it at a higher level. It’s really a stand-alone event and something that needs its own space and its own venue, attention and love.
AJT: So are you putting the AJFF on the map in a much broader sense, not defined by just how many tickets you sell, but by making yourself a really innovative, different kind of film festival, nationally and internationally?
Blank: I think our goal has long been to redefine what Jewish cinema is, to tell that to the community. This is a great cultural experience that is universal to the cultural consumer. And yes, that means partnering with organizations, places you wouldn’t necessarily expect to see AJFF producing different kinds of arts programming. So yes, we want you to expect the unexpected.
AJT: To redefine what the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival is?
Blank: Yes, absolutely. A film festival is more than just about showing films. It’s the conversation that happens around the film, the dialogue that sparks the education that happens, the appreciation of the craft as much as the Jewish cultural aspects. It takes many different forms and we see that, absolutely, as part of our mandate.
AJT: Is part of this the AJFF answer to Amazon and Netflix, HBO and all these new sources for film that are now available in the home? How difficult has this new environment been for you to deal with?
Blank: I think that film festivals provide a unique experience that you cannot get at home. We are showing the film that often you still can’t see anywhere else. And even when you can, you are still not having that richer experience provided by the film festival environment that features the filmmakers and the dialogue that happens with an audience. I am not as threatened by the digital platforms and all of that. We just have to make sure we are bringing added value to the experience in a thoughtful way.
AJT: Are we likely to see more of events like Cinebash in future years?
Blank: I certainly hope so. What we are committed to doing is taking creative risks. The community is looking to us to guide them to what the whole world of Jewish cinema can include.
What we want to do is challenge the notion of what Jewish cinema can be, and expand that for the community by these different types of programs, different formats and different platforms.
We are doing the mini-festival AJFF on the Emory campus. We are doing our monthly film series, AJFF Selects. We are also doing AJFF Connects, which is how to connect Jewish film with diverse audiences, really focused on the intersection of Jewish life with other ethnic, cultural and religious groups. We want to put a lot of different things out there and find different ways to reach new audiences.