Charlotte Jewish Film Festival highlights common human experiences
by Alison Woo
As the film season comes to an apex this weekend with Hollywood preparing for this year’s annual Academy Awards ceremony, the celebration of film is just heating up in the Queen City.
The Charlotte Jewish Film Festival is getting ready to debut its seventh season of sharing exceptional cinematic experiences March 3 to 13.
Whether you’re a cinephile or casual film lover, with a range of drama, comedy and documentaries, there’s something here for everyone.
“Our goal is to reach the broadest base audience,” said Jeff Turk, the festival’s marketing director. “The movies in the festival are all entertaining, smart and enlightening. No matter what you see, people who come to the films will feel better after having seen them.”
While the festival’s mission is to “illuminate the global Jewish experience through experiences that are both entertaining and enlightening,” Turk said this year’s nine films were picked expressly with a general audience in mind.
“The reason why this festival is important is because we, as a community, can sometimes be compartmentalized and forget how much alike we are and that there is a universal human experience,” he said.
Making the cut
The process of culling the films started last summer and went through November. Debbie Block, the festival’s chairperson, makes the first round of selections.
“She likes to joke that in the beginning it was about scouring the racks at Blockbuster,” he said. “But now she goes to conferences for independent films and talks to distributors and producers to help create the pool of possibilities. We’re also at the mercy of the films that are available.”
The committee from the Levine Jewish Community Center, the festival’s host, screened 20 films to whittle the slate to nine using specific criteria. “We wanted films that would appeal to a broad audience and sensibilities,” Turk said. “Another one of the goals was that the films were meaningful and that we could give exposures to great films that wouldn’t normally be shown in Charlotte.”
The range of movies includes “The Matchmaker,” a coming-of-age story about finding love, which was nominated for seven Israeli Academy Awards; a highly anticipated documentary “Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story” featuring reclusive player Sandy Koufax; and “Breaking Upwards,” chosen by The Light Factory, and described as 20-something Jewish Manhattanites in a Woody Allen-esque comedy.
The film festival also offers a nod to local talent. Short film “Bagels and Lox” was directed by Myers Park High School graduate Gabriel Kaunitz, who is currently a freshman at Savannah College of Art and Design. Jordan Imbrey, a student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, directed “Airborne: The Secret of Identity,” another short comedy in the festival.
Each year the festival makes sure to have a selection that spotlights interfaith work. This year’s choice, “Circus Kids,” is an inspiring documentary about a circus troupe from St. Louis going to work with Israeli and Arab children in a traveling circus in the Middle East.
“The short appeals to any audience member, especially anyone involved in acrobatics or any kind of circus acts and techniques,” Tuck said. The troupe, known as the St. Louis Arches, will perform live after the March 8 showing of the film.
The emphasis this year is to have additional speakers bring the entire experience to life more than watching film on the screen. Opening night offers a free event to the public with the showing of “An Article of Hope,” celebrating Israel’s first astronaut who was on Space Shuttle Columbia. A representative of NASA will speak following the film to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the space agency.
Charlotte is the latest city hosting Jewish Film Festivals, joining New York City, Boston, Palm Beach, Phoenix and Atlanta. Although local festival leaders chose the films independently of other festivals, they are proud that their selections ranked among the best. “Jews and Baseball” opened in Atlanta and sold out the 3,000 seats at the Fox Theater; in Phoenix, it sold out and organizers quickly scheduled a second screening, he said.
The festival in Charlotte continues to receive community support with sponsors such as the Public Library of Charlotte, Mecklenburg County and Patricia McBride and Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux Center for Dance in Uptown.
There are four main venues for showings, including the Jewish Community Center and Ballantyne Village Theater. Prices for each event range from free to $20, with proceeds supporting the festival. A series pass is also available for $64 for nine films.
As the festival looks ahead to the future, organizers are proud they’ve incorporated public feedback to make the festival grow each year. Even this year’s poster was designed to reflect the upbeat vibe offered at the event. “Whatever film you see, it’s a great movie-going experience!” Turk said.
For a complete schedule or to purchase tickets, visit www.charlottejewishfilm.com or www.carolinatix.org, or call 704-372-1000.