If you have been waiting and wondering how and when the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival will reappear during this very challenging time, take heart. You can create your own personal Jewish film festival and run it year-round with just a few well-placed clicks on your computer screen.
The prominent film distributor Menemsha Films, which has over 20 years experience distributing some of the most popular films on the Jewish film festival circuit, has put all those classic Jewish and Israeli films on its new streaming site ChaiFlicks.
For just under $6 a month you can have your pick of such favorites from recent years as “Dough” about how an old French Jewish baker strikes it rich when marijuana gets mixed in with his challah recipe, or the charming Israeli film “The Women’s Balcony” about how a group of Orthodox women stir things up in their small and struggling synagogue.
Both were million-dollar Jewish box office hits for Menemsha, which has seen most of its market for new releases shrivel as Jewish film festivals have postponed their programs and theaters have closed.
Neil Friedman, the head of Menemsha, who has been working on the ChaiFlicks project for the last three years, said the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic provided the final push that helped create the site.
“When the pandemic hit, we said, OK, we can’t wait any longer, especially because people are going to be at home and not going to the movies. This is the perfect time to launch. We actually launched the first week of the pandemic with 20 of our own titles that we already had. So we didn’t have to go out and get anybody else’s films. And here we are, now, where we’ve got 150 titles and we’re growing.”
Friedman credits the explosive growth of Jewish film festivals around the country for creating what he calls a “voracious appetite” for films with a Jewish theme.
“A lot of people said to us this is long overdue. In Atlanta you’ve seen how the Jewish Film Festival has grown and keeps growing. A lot of people don’t want to go to one film, they go to six or eight or 10 films at these festivals each year. That’s the perfect customer for ChaiFlicks, somebody that really prioritizes seeing a film about Jewish culture or Israeli culture.”
Several of the larger Jewish film festivals, determined to stay in touch with their local supporters, have done their own version of ChaiFlicks. The AJFF has a weekly rotation of free encore screenings of some of their most popular films from past seasons. Often they come with free online programs with filmmakers and actors.
The Miami Jewish Film Festival has a selection of nearly two dozen popular selections that are available free of charge.
Those who are truly ambitious about searching out noteworthy Jewish and Israeli cinema can browse the website of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival. The festival, which has been Atlanta’s longtime rival as the nation’s largest Jewish festival experience, lists 421 films on its pay-per-view database.
But for film buffs who have even more time on their hands, there’s JewishFilmFestivals.org, which has catalogued over 850 films with a Jewish theme and where they can be found online.
The effect of the wide availability of films online during the health crisis and the closure of many theaters has influenced the marketing of major feature films this summer. Late in July, Universal Pictures and AMC Theatres agreed to severely trim the window between the release of first run films and their screening online. What had been a 75-day window was cut to just 17 days.
The Walt Disney Studios ignored a theatrical premiere for its new live action remake of “Mulan,” a 1998 animated hit. It opened online Sept. 4 for an eye-popping charge of $30. That’s in addition to the monthly charge for the Disney+ service where the film appears.
It’s all good news for Friedman, the ChaiFlicks executive who has a goal of attracting new capital and ultimately expanding his library of Jewish classics to include an international English-speaking audience for as many as 2000 films.
“When you get in the habit of looking at Jewish films, it’s addictive. I feel like I’m doing my Ph.D. in Jewish studies. I’m always learning something new and so are so many other people. Our history is so broad, so lengthy and we have so many stories to tell.”