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AJFF - Day One & Two Report

8th Annual Atlanta Jewish Film Festival
January 16-27, 2008 or call 404-806-9913

by Jay Blodgett

ATLANTA, GA. (January 17, 2008) –The Atlanta Jewish Film Festival launched its eighth year in what was a truly impressive pair of opening weekend events. Since I am still in my first year of living in Atlanta, I had not attended the AJFF before and its reputation had preceded it as being the premiere film festival in the city. If Opening Night is any indication, that is not an understatement!

Opening night (or the official title, "Opening Night Red Carpet VIP Event") was extraordinary, in my festival-going experience. At $250 per pair of tickets, the sold-out crowd was made up of obviously fervent supporters of the festival and the American Jewish Committee (the sponsors of the festival). Upon entering the Fox Sports Grill in Atlantic Station, which is next door to the Regal Atlantic Station Cinemas where the film would be screened, I was greeted by a phalanx of volunteers and house managers (a good sign regarding the crowd control to come?). Photographers were available to record your entrance. I was immediately greeted by the PR representatives from CGI Group and given a quick briefing on who's who in the room in the festival administration.

After a short conversation with Festival Co-Chair Darren Katz and AJC Assistant Director, Dov Wilker (where I could hear myself babbling! argh!), I tripped upon the buffet dinner served before the film. I do not know who the attendees were, but if the parade of Sachs and Neiman-Marcus fashion was any indication, these were the movers and shakers of Atlanta society in attendance. The event itself was buzzing with several photographers (photos to come) and videographers. It was well staffed and the menu was delicious! I was actually pretty excited about what lay ahead for dessert after the film! Kudos to the Event Planner, whose name I regrettably did not write down during the opening remarks before the film.

As the screening approached, I began to wonder HOW they were going to move these hundreds of diners into the cinema and start anywhere near on time. I have grown used to festival opening nights running late, the record being held by last year's Atlanta Film Festival, which started over an hour late. An announcement was made over the restaurant's P.A. system and the crowd began to excitedly finish and move out. Scheduled to begin at 7:30, at approximately 7:40, a P.A. announcement settled the crowd and Sheri Labovits, President of the AJC, Atlanta Chapter, stepped up to the podium and began the evening (which was perhaps the most impressive moment of the evening!). The crowd was there and ready FOR THE FILM on time! It wasn't the social circus that can mire such nights in an bog of networking and air kisses.

After opening remarks by Ms. Labovitz, the 2008 AJFF Co-Chairs Darren Katz and David Kuniansky introduced this year's festival. They announced that as of that afternoon, ticket sales had surpassed 12,000 and that the AJFF was now the second largest Jewish film festival, after the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.

Their presentation included a stunningly professional and impressive short subject, 2008 AJFF: CINEMATIC BRIDGES, directed by Kenny Blank, who is also the Executive Director of the festival, and produced by David Shapiro Enterprises. The short was a concise and fairly thorough profile of the festival, it's goals, and the incredibly involved selection process. There are no less than 70 members of the film selection committee, so "the AJFF ensures a diverse range of movies, which appeal to audiences of all kinds."

Then She Found Me - Author in Attendance

After the short subject, the AJFF Opening Night Honorary Chair, Eleanor Ringel Cater, introduced the film, THEN SHE FOUND ME (which just won the Audience Award at Palm Springs). The author of the book upon which it is based, Elinor Lipman, was adorably thrilled to be in attendance. I will recap my experience of the film under a separate post, but suffice to say that it was the a crowd pleaser and an excellent choice for an opening night!

After the film, Elinor Lipman discussed the 18-year hiatus of the novel after it was optioned by Sigourney Weaver, and her brief experiences with Helen Hunt when she was contacted about its eventual production. It would seem that the novel was liberally adapted into the screenplay; however, Lipman seemed so pleased with the final product on screen, that she didn't mind. (After the film, back at the Fox Grill, Lipman and her publishers provided free copies of the book and she was available to autograph during the dessert, which also featured a table LOADED with cakes!)

The evening was a rousing success in my book!

Young Professionals Night Party

The "Young Professionals Night Party" was the only event on the second night of the festival. It, too, was held at the Fox Sports Grill and the Regal Atlantic Station Cinemas. I was expecting something much more low key, in the form of a cocktail party. I was wrong! THIS was what I had come to be used to as an Opening Night! At an outrageous bargain of only $18 per ticket, the dinner buffet may have been a slight step down on the menu compared to the night before, but was equally yummy and plentiful! This was a much more buzzing crowd and the transition from restaurant to cinema was even more excitedly managed.

Though the networking and air kisses were more prevalent, the program began promptly at 7:30, with a P.A. announced welcome that silenced and settled the crowd. Why don't more festivals do that?! It was the most simple and effective crowd control device I've seen. It got everyone settled and allowed a 'space' for the introductory speaker to begin. At so many of these events, I've seen the speaker wander up to the podium, look out over the crowd and apparently HOPE that people will sit and quiet down.

Anyway, the night's committee chairs, Katie Kolesky and Jackie Naggar, introduced the evening, which included a number of trailers of films that the "Young Professionals Committee" recommended (or sponsored?). Then the guest of the evening was introduced: Mark Dunn, who is a founding member of the Weather Underground, which was quite apropos for the evening's film, CHICAGO 10. (Again, I'll recap my experience of the film under a separate post.)

Mr. Dunn does not have any association with the film or its subject beyond his association with the peace movement at the time. After the film, Dunn was not so surprisingly frank about his feelings about the film. "It's long!," he said. Har! Also, he has an aversion to documentaries that would suggest "movements are made by leaders. It was the movement that created [us]." The rest of the Q&A became more of a lecture about the work of the student protesters in the late 60s as well as the state of foreign affairs today. The Q&A became just a bit heated once Iraq was brought up.

These opening events have me quite excited to see how the rest of the festival will be run! I inquired about who their projectionists are (to be answered later) and found that the house management is made up of volunteers. However, these volunteers are exceptionally involved in the process of the festival. The people taking audience ballot cards for CHICAGO 10 were actually members of the film selection committee, as I found out after a brief chat. They had seen a minimum of 50 films to discuss in the committee, which is an exceptional commitment in itself, much less "working the doors" of the fest.

The BUZZ film of the fest is THE MEMORY THIEF screening next Thursday! I can't wait to see it again!!

Jay Blodgett
"Life With Movies and Maxxxxx"