Thursday, January 29, 2009

Atlanta Jewish Film Festival 2009 - Closing Weekend and Recap

This is a temporary posting of a report submitted to Southern Screen Report, to be published later.

The Atlanta Jewish Film Festival graciously sent me a HUGE ENVELOPE of screeners of nearly the ENTIRE festival! Even with that courtesy, I was not able to keep up with the demanding screening schedule during the closing weekend. (Though I am in San Francisco, I attempted to keep within the frame of a "virtual" film festival experience by viewing screeners in the order and time frame that they were scheduled.) Of the final three days, which screened ten unique programs, I was only able to see two of those. And, ironically, or more accurately, how frustrating to find out that the two Audience Award Winners were from the eight films I did NOT see!

The Atlanta Jewish Film Festival announced the winners of the AJFF Audience Awards for Best Narrative Film and Best Documentary Film: THE LITTLE TRAITOR (dir. Lynn Roth, Israel/USA, 2007, 88 mins.) for Best Narrative Film, and BLESSED IS THE MATCH: THE LIFE AND DEATH OF HANNA SENESH (dir. Roberta Grossman, Czech Republic/Hungary/Israel, 2008, 86 mins.) for Best Documentary. Both films will be featured at a special encore screening, and the filmmakers will be presented with the AJFF Audience Award. (Details of the screenings will be announced at a future date.)

AJFF Audience Award winners are determined by popular vote by the AJFF audience, and what a large audience it is! The 2009 AJFF attracted more than 17,000 moviegoers, making it the second largest Jewish film festival in the nation - second only to the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival. The AJFF also announced it is the largest film festival in Atlanta. Executive Director Kenny Blank said, “It is gratifying to witness the huge crowds and passionate reaction to these films. Nearly half of our screenings were sellouts.” Even with my short experience in Atlanta, it is not hard to understand why. The AJFF presents one of the most polished and professional festival experiences I have ever attended. The programming is exceptional and the actual scheduling is inspired. I am not sure exactly who it is that is responsible for the calendaring of programs, however, programming the virtual sidebars to run consecutively, instead of conflicting, is a gift in of itself!

The American Jewish Committee of Atlanta appears to be made up of an exceptionally active and participatory membership. They are the volunteers that man the house management, box office and, most importantly, form the screening committee. I think the key to the AJFF's success during festival week, is involving their volunteers from the inception of the festival during the programming process. I was told that screening committee members commit to no less than fifty films during the selection process! It is no wonder then, that by the time the group is bringing the house lights down, these volunteers have vested themselves into providing the best festival experience for the patron. There is a sense of pride that this is THEIR festival they are sharing with YOU, and the AJC-ATL is thrilled that you are there to see what they have found!

For the closing night film, the AJFF presented BART GOT A ROOM (dir. Brian Hecker, USA, 2008, 80 mins.). Though the film tries a bit too hard to be quirky, it does feature an exceptional cast, staring William H. Macy and Cheryl Hines as the separated parents to Steven Kaplan, who is in desperate need of a prom date. Written and directed in the same vein as the current glut of Apatow & Rogen romantic comedies, the film is pleasant enough, though it is just a bit too nice, which is the predicament of its main character. The production design continued to throw me off, as I simply was not sure what period it was set, since the costume and character designs for Macy and Hines are so extreme, it wreaked of 1980s kitsch. The film climaxes at The Prom, which in itself is thematic enough to send an audience out to a celebration of another successful festival. The Closing Night party followed the screening.

Maxxxxx says
re AJFF: "Woooooo!"

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