Why is the Greater Phoenix Jewish Film Festival better than the New York Jewish Film Festival? For starters, my mother is on the board of directors (in full disclosure/hi mom!). In all seriousness though, the answers is focus.
The New York program has come and gone (January 13-28). I had the pleasure of seeing some of the NY offerings and Ajami aside, which just received a well deserved Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Film, the options were many, and the quality was low. I’m sorry, but 32 films? There just aren’t 32 recent and great Jewish/Israeli films. Hell – there aren’t 32 recent and great American films. I say "recent" because the New York selection committee apparently does not have any restrictions on production year. This was evident from the screening of the 1935 vaudevillian film Bar Mitvzah, which I recommend skipping even if it’s on PBS. The point is – what’s the point? This is a yearly Jewish film festival and there are at least a handful of great, new, topical, Jewish/Israeli films that could be showcased alone.
Which brings us to the Phoenix Film Fest, and really a vast majority of the other smartly smaller film festivals throughout the U.S. The Phoenix program is just about to begin (February 20-March 4) and features a mere nine films.
The selection ranges from documentary Stealing Klimt, the complex story of 90-year-old Maria Altmann’s struggle to recover five Gustav Klimt paintings stolen from her family by the Nazis, to the hilarious comedy A Matter of Size, a charming tale about four overweight Israeli’s who launch a sumo wrestling club.
So back to the question: what’s the point? Well, I think the point of all of the film fests, and Jewish cultural offerings in general, is to create moments of community that can be easily accessed via culture. The problem with the superstore 32 films model (besides stunning those who aren’t in the know with too many choices) is reduction in quality. As Jews and consumers, we crave quality, and thus the carefully curated experience becomes extremely important if you are asking someone to spend a few hours watching whatever it is you are peddling.
Moreover, community is often about shared experience. If the aim is to rally the community and generate buzz for certain films and overall, the richness of Jewish culture…well, you get where I’m going: that’s pretty hard to do when everyone you know saw a different random film.
I’m a firm believer in the transformative powers of culture and inclusive environments, but much like the movie camera, focus is key.