Feb. 5, 2007 (ATLANTA) -- Okay, I admit it. I'm impressed.
I've been to a few film festivals by now and I'm always preaching
the benefits of regular festival attendance, but I have to say --
the 7th Annual Atlanta Jewish Film Festival was an absolute guilty
pleasure for me.
The AJFF was held January 22 - 28, at the Lefont Theatre
in Sandy Springs and at Regal Cinemas Atlanta Station (which is
quickly becoming an indie film hangout). Starting with the gorgeous
48-page glossy program guide, issued months in advance to entice
filmgoers, the AJFF organizers gave a clinic in how to do it right.
That said, doing it right is much easier with money. Whether it
was from presenting sponsors, Stephanie and Arthur Blank (who happen
to be the parents of festival director, Kenny Blank); prestigious
grants from the NEA and the Academy of Motion Pictures, both
of which the AJFF received this year; or the year-round work of
an experienced fundraising committee able to entice corporate sponsors
like Coca-Cola, Verizon, and Turner Broadcasting -- AJFF had the
money to do it right.
While I'm usually banging on doors and filling out pages of media
credential forms, begging to gain admission to even the smallest
festivals (all in the effort to offer FREE PUBLICITY to said festivals)
I received a very professional e-mail from the incredibly efficient
PR staff of the AJFF, asking if I would like to attend the festival,
AND if I would like to interview Hollywood legend Paul Mazursky,
who would be attending the festival.
Would I!! They arranged the interview and FEDEXed me the program,
the media passes, and the ultra-slick mini-schedule, which made
it incredibly easy to choose the films I wanted to attend. They
even offered to distribute copies of Southern Screen Report
at both festival locations.
Most films completely sold out. People waited in line outside the
theater, hoping the busy ushers could find one more seat inside.
WAITED IN LINE when was the last time you saw
that at a local film festival? I can't tell you how many festival
screenings I've been to where there were fewer than ten people in
the audience, which is embarrassing for everyone -- filmmakers,
organizers, and audience members. Paul Reiser of Mad About
You fame still talks about the time his film, The
Thing About My Folks (2005), screened at the Atlanta Film
Festival to 12 audience members in a theater of 900 seats.
At the 2007 AJFF, there were more Q&A sessions than I could
attend, with directors and cast members from around the world in
attendance (including the great Mazursky -- watch for my interview
with him in our coming March print edition). Podiums, kiosks, and
ticket vending booths were specially designed for the AJFF, and
brought a real air of class to the event.
And then, there were the films: 38 "great films with a Jewish
twist" from 13 countries. I'm a shorts fan, and gleefully sat
through two hours of back-to-back shorts that ran the gamut from
a documentary dissing the increasing tourism of Auschwitz (Holocaust
Tourist by Jes Benstock) to a delightful look at a lingerie
store in New York, a family business (A Good Uplift
by Faye Lederman, Cheryl Furjanic, and Eve Lederman).
I laughed my ass off at A Good Uplift, watching a
shopkeeper in the garment district guide women through the universal
struggle to find the right brassiere. But just 20 minutes earlier,
during Holocaust Tourist, I got the ultimate cinematic
chill as a cameraman walked into an Auschwitz gas chamber, where
tourists smiled and took snapshots of each other in the place where
millions had died unimaginable deaths. "I didn't want to make
a film about the Holocaust," said Benstock in voiceover, "But
if you're a filmmaker and Jewish, it's required."