Freedom Offers AJFF Growth, AJC Focus

Freedom Offers AJFF Growth, AJC Focus

By Michael Jacobs | AJT

The 15th annual Atlanta Jewish Film Festival will be the first without the oversight of the Atlanta Regional Office of the American Jewish Committee.

“It won’t change the experience of this year’s festival” and perhaps not of future festivals, said Brad Pilcher, the festival’s associate director. “It won’t look or feel any different.”

The AJC spun off the festival into its own 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization Aug. 1 and announced the move in December.

After a decade at the helm, Kenny Blank remains the executive director, and AJC Atlanta Vice President Steve Labovitz becomes the first president of the festival’s board of directors.

It’s a friendly separation in which both organizations will continue to work together with shared goals of engaging and educating the community at large to promote dialogue and understanding.

“Our local bridge-building has always been enhanced by the film festival, and we look forward to continuing to see the fruits of this partnership,” AJC Atlanta President Lauren Grien said.

The major effects of the formal split, at least initially, will come behind the scenes.

As an independent arts and cultural institution, the festival will be free to pursue funding sources, such as arts grants, that weren’t available when it was part of an advocacy group, Pilcher said.

New revenue could help the festival meet its constant need to expand capacity and move beyond the limits of screening films over several weeks in January and February.

“We’ll still be Jewish. We’ll still be film. But we’ll have a new dynamism,” Pilcher said. That could mean special screenings throughout the year, and it could mean programming about films, filmmakers or movie stars without screenings.

He said sustainability will be a key focus of strategic planning after this year’s festival.

“I don’t imagine we would ever want to move away from our core programming of screening Jewish films. Instead, we’ll clarify subtle and important things,” such as whether the mainstream, non-Jewish-content work of mainstream Israeli filmmakers has a place.

Judy Marx, who founded the festival as an AJC staffer and later became AJC Atlanta executive director, said the festival has long been a community success, but independence will allow it to move to the next level artistically.

In a statement, Labovitz said the festival’s two immediate jobs as an independent organization are to secure its programming and apply its expertise “to do even bigger and better things.”

“We’ll have new opportunities to expand what we do outside 23 days,” Pilcher said. Although he couldn’t rule out regional expansion, Pilcher said: “Our primary goal going forward is to be the best film festival for Atlanta.”

Blank added in a statement: “Our newfound independence puts AJFF squarely in the marketplace of other great Atlanta arts institutions and international film festivals and best positions us to explore future programming opportunities.”

The separation also provides new independence to AJC Atlanta.

The festival came to dominate the AJC’s public image, and Pilcher said the overhead and day-to-day responsibility of the festival became burdens for the organization.

Now the AJC can do its work without the internal pressure of the film festival on its operations, Marx said.

“With its day-to-day operations supported by a new entity, AJFF will continue to be a gift to our community,” Wilker said. “Meanwhile, AJC will continue to focus on its core advocacy mission, enhancing the well-being of the Jewish people and Israel and advancing human rights and democratic values in the United States and around the world.”

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