As a small festival in a college town, the Athens Jewish Film Festival has the ability to capitalize on the tight-knit community and build stronger bonds with local businesses and organizations. The festival’s 2020 film lineup has just been confirmed and tickets are on sale for the gala and screenings March 21-25.
Though the festival is not affiliated with the University of Georgia, this year’s gala will take place in the modern event space and theater of the Georgia Museum of Art on UGA’s east campus. The museum includes a 200-seat movie theater, allowing for a larger audience for opening night. The rest of the films will be screened at Ciné, a popular independent art house theater in downtown Athens.
Opening night at the Georgia Museum of Art will include a gala beginning at 6 p.m. and a screening of “Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles,” a documentary exploring the legacy of “Fiddler on the Roof,” at 8 p.m. The gala is sponsored by Mama’s Boy, a very popular breakfast restaurant in Athens.
Being a smaller festival means access to films is more difficult than larger ones like the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival. There’s a long screening process in which a committee, made up largely by members of Athens’ Congregation Children of Israel synagogue, watches each movie and filters through which they’d like to show before attempting to secure rights to the movies. “Generally, what we do is the screening committee looks between May and October for movies. In that time frame we’re getting 2018 and 2019 movies,” said Ron Zell, the festival’s president.
“It’s a lot smaller; there’s a lot less people on the board, which means there is more to make sure gets done right.” However, the board sees payoff from their hard work with the success of the festival and looks forward to a great turnout this year as well. “Last year we had the largest attendance that we’ve had. … We’re doing a pretty good job of filling up the theater,” Zell said.
In its 12th year running, the festival has secured a diverse lineup of carefully selected films from countries including Austria, Germany, Israel, France and Canada. The first day of the festival, March 22, begins with the German film also being shown at the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival, “The Keeper” at 1 p.m., and continues into the evening with “A Bag of Marbles” and “Mr. & Mrs. Adelman.”
Over the next two days, viewers can see “The Second Time Around,” “The Tobacconist,” “Echo,” and “Holy Lands.” Food will be provided in breaks between screenings on each day of the festival.
The last day of the festival, March 25, includes the shorts competition, where three or four short films from around 30 are selected as winners and screened before the final movie, the Danish film “A Fortunate Man,” is shown.
The festival draws other locals along with its Jewish attendees. “You get a wide range of people that are interested in the independent type of movies. You’ve got more of a circulation up there,” as it’s a college town, Zell said. “They’re films they would never see anywhere else.”
The Athens Jewish Film Festival featured a special pre-festival event for free Jan. 12 at the Athens-Clarke County Library. They screened the classic film “Avalon,” celebrating its 30th anniversary, about a Jewish immigrant family. “We had pretty good attendance. Everybody liked that movie,” Zell said.
The city has been very supportive of the festival, he said. They have received two grants from the city of Athens, including support from the Athens Downtown Development Authority and the mayor, and have many local advertisers, which enables the festival to uniquely provide food with every movie that’s screened.
“I don’t believe anyone else is doing that in the area,” Zell said. “All our noshes are provided free of charge; it’s all donations by some of the businesses, restaurants in the city of Athens.”
They also aim to keep the cost of the festival low. People can purchase a festival pass for all the movies for $55 and an opening night gala ticket for $65. If somebody wants to only go to individual films rather than purchase a festival pass, they can arrive 15 minutes prior to showtime at Ciné and purchase a ticket at the theater’s price.
Tickets, as well as the lineup, are available on the website, athensjff.org, and can be paid either online or through a check sent to the Athens Jewish Film Festival.