Persistent rain did not deter culture lovers and movie aficionados Monday night from walking the red carpet at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre for the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival opening night. The 20th anniversary of the festival gave reason to celebrate the theme “Magnificent Movies Make Magical Memories.” Opening night décor by Jim White Designs transformed the ballroom into monochromatic ivory, crystals and gauzed drapes, hanging floral baskets, and palm fronds reflecting old Hollywood glamour.
Most poignant was the variety of patrons and guests who socialized to affirm the positivity of black-Jewish cooperation in the decades prior to the world premier of the documentary “Shared Legacies: The African-American Jewish Civil Rights Alliance.” Appearing in the movie, Rabbi Alvin Sugarman chatted during the reception with Don Rivers, representing civil rights icon Dr. C. T. Vivian, 95, also in the movie. Sugarman said, “Vivian did more than we can imagine, participating in the first sit-in long before MLK.”
Meanwhile, fans gathered around actor and social activist Louis Gossett Jr., who appeared in the film and participated after its premiere Monday in a panel with civil rights icons, some of whom are also in the movie. They included the children of major leaders of the time, Martin Luther King III and Dr. Susannah Heschel; along with Rabbi Alvin Sugarman of The Temple and Sherry Frank, who founded AJC Atlanta’s Black-Jewish Coalition.
A musical celebrity also in the film was opening act Peter Yarrow, who, as part of the folk group Peter, Paul and Mary, participated in Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1963 March on Washington. Before the film showing, he told stories and performed his classic “Blowing in the Wind” for an estimated 2500 in attendance, accompanied by choirs from King’s spiritual home, Ebenezer Baptist Church, and The Temple, known for its support of the black freedom fight.
In a surprise rendition, some of the choir members sang part of the song in Hebrew.
The film itself, showing the deep relationships between black and Jewish leaders, showcased the names and faces who fought and remain active in the human rights battle.
Supporting filmmaker Shari Rogers Monday night was a large family contingency who came from Michigan and Florida. At the gala reception, glamorous mother Barbara Rogers Wildstein donned a bold animal print jacket. Roger’s cousins and siblings lined the photo booths.
Gail Goldstein Heyman brought Teresa Westbrooks, FBI outreach coordinator for community affairs. “I have always followed the AJFF’s emails, but never attended until I saw the subject of this film.” Dr. Stan Fineman mentioned that he is participating in a racial justice seminar and that this movie will “open good dialogue.”
Several of those in attendance expressed excitement about the larger film festival, which runs through Feb. 27. Barbara Abend accompanied Carol Nemo, who celebrated her 20th anniversary as an AJFF sponsor. Nemo was most anticipating “Crescendo,” a narrative about an orchestra of Israeli and Palestinian youths. To celebrate the 20 years, Nemo had tickets to 20 movies. Producer level member Marc Adler, whose parents Gail and Lewis flew in from Houston, said, “After 20 years, it’s hard to imagine this can keep getting bigger and better every year.”
Matthew Bernstein, chair of Emory University’s film and media studies, chatted up his much anticipated faves. “I think this year has a particularly impressive list of documentaries like ‘Golda,’ and ‘Oliver Sacks: His Own Life.’ Also, I’m looking forward to ‘Standing Up, Falling Down,’ ‘Black Mercedes’ and ‘Those Who Remained’ – a very strong lineup.”
Tax attorney Jeffrey Kess concurred that he is drawn to documentaries and also those films reflecting conflict such as “Incitement.” He added, “What I really like is the community coming together like this for opening night.”
Steve Linowes has a traditional method for selecting films just after opening night. “I sit down with my kids, and we all take a look.”
The reception, open to patrons and sponsors, featured individual tables of gourmet offerings. Tal Baum’s Aziza served an unusual herring baguette with spicy pickles and tomato jus. Star newcomer Le Colonial general manager Jake Guyette, in a celery Hermes scarf, joked, “I’m a nice Jewish boy from Brookline, Massachusetts, and this is my first time seeing this. We really want to meet new people since we’ve been open only seven months.”
The sole kosher vendor E.B. Catering featured lamb areyas with tahini drizzle. Returning participant Davio’s loaded up with hand-rolled gnocchi. Sandy Springs favorite Il Giallo owner Jamie Adams served butternut squash tortellini with browned butter, sage and almonds.
Other restaurants and food vendors were Bistro Niko, Café Sunflower, C & S Seafood, Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre, DaVinci’s Donuts, Fifth Group, Grand China, Nakato, Popcorn Palooza, The Select, and 2B Whole Gluten Free Bakery.
Gala event chair and event site consultant Martha Jo Katz, dressed in a French ensemble, credited those who put it all together. “Steven Eisenstein is an important part of the evening with his assistance from Classic Tents and Events. Button it Up brings guests memories through their photo booth. We have many celebrities attending and a special area for media interviews and photos. Longtime supporters of AJFF, Edwina and Tom Johnson (former president of CNN) escorted Lynda Bird Johnson Robb, eldest daughter of former president Lyndon Johnson. Rex Garrett did an amazing job in lighting, gobos, and AV. Movies light up our hearts, but Rex lights up our venue!”
The evening was definitely “lit” in hearts, minds and appetites!
- Marcia Caller Jaffe
- Local News
- Atlanta Jewish Film Festival
- Shared Legacies
- Shared Legacies: The African-American Jewish Civil Rights Alliance
- Rabbi Peter Berg
- Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre
- Opening night
- Jim White Designs
- Black-Jewish Relations
- Rabbi Alvin Sugarman
- Don Rivers
- dr. C. T. Vivian
- Martin Luther King III
- Dr. Susannah Heschel
- Sherry Frank
- AJC Atlanta
- Peter Yarrow
- Ebenezer Baptist Church
- The Temple
- Rev. Dwight Andrews