Sunday, October 11, 2009

Previewing and Choosing Films for Screening

“How will we preview and select films?” was a big question at the Festival’s inception. The organizers set basic standards for selecting films. Fagie Rosen created a set of rules that required previewers to view a set number of films and to become a Festival patron. Originally, everyone involved in the Festival was expected to preview the films, and each film was viewed all the way through. Over the years, committees were created to provide specific roles, and a preview committee was formed, distinct from the film selection committee and the Festival board.

As the Festival grew, more people in the local Jewish community were invited to preview and evaluate the content. We now have a group of over 15 people who participate in the preview committee. Each feature film or documentary is viewed for 20 minutes, after which the committee votes on whether to watch another 20 minutes or to reject the piece at that point. If a film looks promising after 40 minutes, it is viewed all the way through. Short films are viewed in full.

Margalit Raviv, our program chair, sources the films. She researches film festival lists from all over the world, and is in contact with dozens of film distributors. Sometimes filmmakers ask us to preview an unreleased film; most recently, we previewed “Beau Jest”, which is being shown in this year’s Festival.

We screen a variety of American and international works that highlight the Jewish experience. Some selections entertain with comedy or drama, others educate, and some celebrate the rich diversity of Jewish life in history and today's world. Each year, we screen an increasing number of Israeli films, reflecting the remarkable growth of Israeli cinema. We strive to get a mix of the best relevant feature films, documentaries, videos, and shorts that might not ordinarily be seen locally. Keeping in mind today's challenges to Judaism, selections are based on artistic merit and value of the themes and subject matter to the Jewish community. Another goal for screening films is to increase understanding of our culture, heritage, and history.

Often the content fosters a sense of culture and identity for unaffiliated Bay Area Jews. The Festival attracts many folks who might not be members of a temple, but who do come to see the films.

Each year we get feedback from attendees, which helps to guide our selection process. This year, we previewed dozens of films and had many high-energy discussions based on a broad diversity of viewpoints and opinions. There was plenty of critical and healthy debate on matters ranging from artistic merit to sensitivity to our community. As a result, we have a creative and varied lineup that offers something for everyone.

Please let us know which Festival films you liked and why, and tell us what kinds of films you would you like to see next year.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

A Bit of Festival History

In the late 1980’s, inspired by other Jewish film festivals, community leader Burt Epstein had an idea to develop a film festival to the South Bay. While he was trying to garner interest in the project, he discovered that Fagie Rosen, then the Senior Services Director of the Addison Penzak Jewish Community Center, and Bernis Kretchmar, then the Women’s Division Director of the Jewish Federation, had the same idea.

Over the course of a few months, the “Jewish Film Series” was born as a committee of the Addison Penzak JCC of Silicon Valley. The three founders gathered an eclectic group of about 18 people in the Jewish community, both young and old. Burt and Fagie are the only two original founders still actively involved in the current festival, while some of the others in the original group still support the effort.

In 1991, the first year of the series, the challenge was to book a few movies, and four films were shown three times during the course of the event. The headline film, “The Quarrel” was brought to the committee by Dan Pulcrano, editor of the “Metro”, and was shown to a standing room-only audience at the Towne Theatre on the Alameda in San Jose.

The organization name was later changed to the San Jose Jewish Film Festival. In 2008, the program that started as a good idea became the very successful—and growing—Silicon Valley Jewish Film Festival. As of July 2009, the SVJFF is an independent 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.

In 2009, the Festival celebrates its “Chai” 18th year of bringing the best contemporary Jewish films from around the world to Bay Area audiences. Since its inception, the Festival has evolved into a well-attended eight-week event during the months of October and November, offering a diverse array of international films. This year’s screenings are at several convenient venues: the Camera 12 Theater in downtown San Jose, the Camera 7 Theater at the Pruneyard shopping center in Campbell, the Cubberley Community Theater in Palo Alto and the soon-to-be-opened auditorium of the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto.

Each year, an increasing number of Israeli films are shown, reflecting the remarkable development of Israeli cinematic arts. Through an excellent mix of features, documentaries, and short films, the Festival explores many facets of Jewish life, history, and culture. Related programs and illuminating discussions with filmmakers, directors, and other special guests are an added treat.

Founder Fagie Rosen said, “The Film Festival has gone beyond my wildest dreams and I applaud all the dedicated committee members who have volunteered their time and knowledge to get us to this point of becoming an independent non-profit organization. Thanks to all the wonderful sponsors and patrons who believed in the Silicon Valley Jewish Film Festival and have been so supportive for the last 18 years, we are now able to branch out and become available to several other communities as well. The crawling baby is now walking and will soon be running as well.”

And Burt Rosen agrees, “I second Fagie's comments. She certainly expresses my pride in and appreciation for the continuing growth and evolution of our venture.”