Saul Bass has been dead over 22 years, but the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival is making a mighty effort to bring the famed Jewish motion picture graphic designer and filmmaker back to life for one night only.
On Saturday night, June 23, the festival is producing its first Cinebash, with a focus on Bass and his wife and design partner, Elaine. The event will be built around Bass’ iconic work as one of the most influential designers in film history.
It’s a high-profile, ambitious event for the festival, which has sought to redefine itself with year-round programming since separating from its founding organization, American Jewish Committee’s Atlanta Chapter, almost four years ago.
In introducing the event at a VIP preview Thursday, June 7, AJFF Executive Director Kenny Blank didn’t shy away from superlatives.
“It’s something Atlanta has never seen before,” he said. “It’s a truly unique party, a celebration of the screen arts, and something very cool and awesome that if I tried to describe it, I would just diminish it.”
Festival board member Max Leventhal was plainspoken about his hopes for Cinebash: “We are ambitious and want to grow, and to that end we are reaching out to new audiences with artistically interesting people who are going to find their way to the film festival through alternate paths.”
The festival has lined up two dozen partners for Cinebash, including Fulton County Arts & Culture, the Alliance Theatre and the Atlanta Film Festival. Leading a trio of presenting sponsors is Taste of Atlanta, which will feature tasty bites from some of Atlanta’s most notable restaurants.
The event’s creative director is Danny Davis, who has a decade of experience producing cutting-edge artistic projects at such forward-thinking venues as the Goat Farm Arts Center in West Midtown. His job is to make the most of Cinebash’s large venue, the 35,000-square-foot Contemporary Art Center just west of the Georgia Tech campus.
“We are going to play with Saul Bass’ work as light, as structure, as objects, as installations surrounding you. We are going to do that through line and direct movement of text as well as shapes. We are going to play with structures in big ways, in ways that may not be expected,” Davis said.
Bass, the son of Jewish immigrants, got his first break with the title sequence for “The Man With the Golden Arm,” a 1955 film that featured one of Frank Sinatra’s best dramatic performances.
The film’s success launched Bass on a 40-year career that redefined the importance of graphics in motion pictures and film advertising.
His title sequences at the beginning of movies often were little films themselves, with an unspoken story line that helped to define the movies in the public mind. Sometimes Bass’ short titles were more memorable than the films they introduced.
Atlanta audiences may remember his work in 1960’s “Exodus,” which many consider the most influential film about Israel ever made.
Bass’ two-minute title sequence, playing over Ernest Gold’s stirring theme music, is simplicity itself with a strong yet almost subliminal message. An orange flame licks at the bottom of a deep-blue screen, where the titles appear in sequence until the final moments, when the screen itself is engulfed in flame — an allusion, perhaps, to the violent but heroic birth of the modern Jewish state.
Deanna Clark is a young designer on the board of the American Institute of Graphic Artists in Atlanta, another of Cinebash’s sponsors. She works for Victory World Church, a megachurch in Norcross with a multiracial community, and attended the VIP preview. She is typical of those the festival would like to attract to its programs on a regular basis.
She spoke of Bass’ influence on her every day. “His poignant work inspires creatives globally. His style and forms allow people from different walks of life to have similar responses of memory. When art brings people together, it creates an environment of inclusion and discussion.”
Leventhal was more succinct: “This is our response to being year-around. You’re going to see more from us.”
Where: Atlanta Contemporary Art Center, 535 Means St., West Midtown
When: 7 p.m. Saturday, June 23
Tickets: $35 in advance, $40 at the door; www.ajff.org/programs/cinebash