It’s been a big year for Max Leventhal. He’s completing his first year as board president of the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival. Meanwhile, in January, he helped open the newly-rebuilt Alliance Theatre at the Woodruff Arts Center. Leventhal, who was CEO of the Alliance for 13 years, planned and supervised the $32 million project, which added two new floors.
The following month he helped lead the festival through another highly successful season, attracting more than 38,000 attendees. Just this week, the festival, which now programs films year-round, presented its AJFF Selects screenings of the new critically acclaimed documentary, “Ask Dr. Ruth” about sex expert Dr. Ruth Westheimer.
We had a few questions of our own, not for Dr. Ruth, but for the AJFF board president.
AJT: The film world is changing rapidly and with Netflix and Amazon, people may not be going to the movies the way they used to. Do you see all of those new developments either helping or hindering what the AJFF does?
Leventhal: I don’t think they will help or hinder. I think that what we do is the movie-going experience in a theater and that experience is pretty limited these days. It’s hard to see good movies in many movie theaters. I think that the AJFF can curate obscure, wonderful stuff in movie theaters. We also provide the community experience of going to see a film and being able to turn to the person, whom you may not know sitting next to you, and say, “Oh my G-d. Did you see what I saw?” That I think we do really well.
We also tee up the film so we’re helping people get into the experience deeper than they would. And then, at the end, if it’s an important film, we have access to really good people, an expert on the subject or a filmmaker, who will help everybody explore what they’ve seen. And I like to think we’re developing new audiences as well. We’re going to be expanding our college roster in the fall. We’ve done a mini festival at Emory. We’re going to try to expand to another campus this year. So I think we’re perfectly situated between the two worlds of blockbuster films and films of real quality.
AJT: This year you co-sponsored an appearance of Itzhak Perlman during the festival. Are we likely to see more events where the AJFF features a live performance?
Leventhal: I’ve said that there’s a whole world of film and performance. I mean I have to tell you that the most out-of-being experience I have ever had was being with Itzhak Perlman when he appeared at City Springs. I mean he’s touched by G-d; it was just amazing. So I think there was a great opportunity where we were able to be nimble and can work with organizations like the Sandy Springs Society to touch people’s lives. I think that the silent film, “The Ancient Law,” with live music accompaniment, is another kind of approach we can take. I’d love to see us have a night dedicated to the film work of the composer John Williams.
AJT: How has the community support of the festival grown?
Leventhal: We’ve had an outstanding year, a banner year. Our two development co-chairs, Ted Blum and Kenneth Taylor, nailed it this year. We needed that support to help us transition to the City Springs theater in Sandy Springs. It brought extra expense that was going to affect the budget. A lot of my job is the behind-the-scenes things and the most important is working with Harris Konter, who is the chairman of the finance committee, to make sure that the underpinnings of the organization are strong financially.
Finally, there must be a gene for being a CEO because Kenny Blank, our executive director, has to have that gene. He’s really a pleasure to work with and someone who sees things past just the details. I think he and the staff are really the backbone that make it possible to execute what we do beautifully. I guess we’re four years out of the gate as a 501(c)(3), so while we’re 19 going on 20 as a film festival. As an organization that has to do all the back-of-house stuff ourselves, we’re relatively young. So we’ve had a very good year on all fronts.