Editor’s Notebook: The Film’s the Thing

Editor’s Notebook: The Film’s the Thing

Michael Jacobs

Atlanta Jewish Times Editor Michael Jacobs is on his second stint leading the AJT's editorial operations. He previously served as managing editor from 2005 to 2008.

This first issue of 2016 brings the annual AJT preview of the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival, back for its 16th year and its first since officially seizing the title of the world’s largest Jewish film festival (even though San Francisco, the original Jewish film festival, keeps using the “world’s largest” claim in its PR).

Information starting on Page 13 should guide you through the festival and help you select films to see. This issue focuses on the special events: opening night; closing night; ACCESS Night, targeting the American Jewish Committee’s young professional group; and appearances by Israeli musician David Broza at the two screenings of his “East Jerusalem West Jerusalem”

Michael Jacobs
Michael Jacobs

documentary. You’ll also find brief descriptions of all 77 festival films and a full festival schedule.

This is not a comprehensive guide to the 23-day festival, whose own program guide runs to more than 150 pages. It’s just a start to get you ready for the opening of ticket sales at noon Sunday, Jan. 10.

We’ll have more festival features before opening night Jan. 26, as well as coverage of festival highlights in February. And we’ll have lots of movie reviews, some of which you can find online right now. We’re hoping that you, our readers and community members, will chip in with reviews and reactions here at atlantajewishtimes.com as you see festival films.

Reviews by their nature are subjective, and no two people will respond the same way to a movie. So the point isn’t to tell you whether you’ll like a film, but to give you some idea of what the film attempts and how well it succeeds.

There’s no point in trying to place every film on some absolute scale running from, say, “Gigli” or “Plan 9 From Outer Space” to “Citizen Kane” or “Lawrence of Arabia.” It’s much more fun and valuable to judge a movie on two basic questions: How well did the film live up to its makers’ own pretensions? Was I entertained (or, in some cases, educated or forced to think)?

Take Stephen Spielberg as an example.

He can deliver endlessly entertaining movies such as “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “Jaws” and “Close Encounters of the Third Time” and moving films with deep messages such as “Saving Private Ryan” and “Schindler’s List.”

He also has produced some spectacular failures. “Empire of the Sun” and “A.I.: Artificial Intelligence” are technically excellent and beautiful to look at, but all the pretty pictures are wasted when the stories drown in insufferable, heavy-handed efforts to convey big ideas. If you never listen to anything else I say, please don’t waste a minute of your life watching “A.I.,” which might be my least favorite film.

At the other end of the pretension spectrum are “1941” and “The Money Pit,” two comedies that aim to do nothing more than entertain.

Spielberg directed “1941,” and it’s considered one of his great flops. But there are far worse ways to waste two hours than watching John Belushi as Capt. Wild Bill Kelso; it’s good, dumb fun.

“The Money Pit,” which Spielberg executive-produced, lacks any fun despite featuring Tom Hanks in his comedy days. More important, it’s a pathetic attempt to remake a wonderful Cary Grant-Myrna Loy comedy, “Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House,” and no one remaking a classic deserves mercy.

So when you read my reviews, keep in mind that I enjoy “1941,” hate “A.I.” with irrational passion, always watch “The Last of the Mohicans” and “Watchmen” if I stumble upon them on cable, and would rather see anything from Billy Wilder, Stanley Kubrick or John Ford than any Spielberg film.

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