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.”

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