There’s no fluorescent-lit popcorn stand to greet you when you enter the newest Atlanta Jewish Film Festival theater in Sandy Springs. No life-size cardboard cut outs of spandex-clad superheroes either.
No, the latest venue for one of the world’s largest Jewish film festivals is classy and luxurious. In place of a popcorn stand, the lobby of the new Byers Theatre features glass walls three stories high, with warm, wood paneling.
The Byers Theatre is the centerpiece of the Sandy Springs Performing Arts Center at City Springs, a $223 million-dollar development on Roswell Road a mile north of I-285.
And AJFF Executive Director Kenny Blank couldn’t be happier. After 18 years of wandering from one suburban multiplex to another, he is finally in a theater he is happy to call home.
“We have finally found the Promised Land,” he said. “Our biggest challenge as a film festival is this industry trend of commercial theaters downsizing, and we were struggling to find ways to accommodate everyone who wanted to come. So now we have this glorious space right in the heart of the Jewish community here in Sandy Springs.”
The lobby alone of the Byers Theatre is big enough to fit 350 guests for a sit-down dinner. Inside, the theater is a three-tiered, state-of-the-art marvel that seats almost 1,100 in concert hall splendor. There’s a new 4K video projection system with a six-figure price tag and an audio system good enough for The Atlanta Opera that will be performing there later in the year.
Parking for more than 1,000 is free during festival show times.
The AJFF has booked the venue for 17 days out of its 21-day run. That’s plenty of time for those residents of Sandy Springs and surrounding communities to fully appreciate what’s here. That’s particularly gratifying for the leaders of the new Sandy Springs Arts Foundation, which gave the AJFF a $40,000 grant in October.
Emily Hutmacher, who is the group’s executive director and an active member of Congregation Gesher L’Torah in Alpharetta, looks upon the grant as a win-win proposition for both the festival and Sandy Springs.
“I think that the film festival has a stellar reputation within all Jewish Atlanta, but especially in Sandy Springs, so that folks should be really excited about enjoying the entire venue, the restaurants, the parking, the ability to make a kind of day out,” she said.
“It’s a unique offering for the patrons of the film festival and the residents of Sandy Springs.”
There are four other theaters around the city where films will be shown, but the Byers Theatre will account for 42 separate screenings, including the festival’s concluding film Feb. 26, “Chewdaism: A Taste of Jewish Montreal.”
Also scheduled at the new theater will be “An Evening with Itzhak Perlman,” presented Saturday night in association with the city of Sandy Springs and The Sandy Springs Society. Perlman, who was profiled in a PBS American Masters film at last year’s festival, will perform a program for solo violin and receive the AJFF’s Icon Award.
The evening will include a video presentation that Blank had a major hand in creating.
“I just actually returned from Hollywood and recorded a number of interviews with some major figures,” he revealed. “I will not say who, but I will say it will be a very memorable tribute that I think will be very touching and impressive for him.”
Music lovers snapped up tickets to the single concert performance, but Blank emphasizes that with a theater of this size there will be fewer disappointments by festival goers for the many film screenings.
“There’s no bad seat in that house, and about 60 percent of our programming is here at City Springs. I think everyone is going to have access to the films they want to see and have an incredible experience at this venue. So, it’s the number one thing that I am most excited about overall with the festival this year.”
The complex also includes a 4 1/2-acre park with an ornamental fountain, Sandy Springs government offices, four restaurants, and 294 apartment and townhomes.
The project, which opened in August, was the culmination of more than five years of planning aimed at putting the new city of Sandy Springs on the map.
Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul, who consulted with the AJFF during the planning of the new center, believes the combination of a first-class performing arts center and a world class Jewish film festival has the potential to put the city on the map of the entertainment world.
“They’ll be here 17 days. I hope they’ll be here 17 years. This festival is rapidly becoming one of the stars of the cinema world. It also helps Georgia become a major film destination. And so we’re hopeful that the metro Atlanta area, and particularly the opportunities that Sandy Springs offers, will help those who visit think of us as a kind of Hollywood East.”