IT'S BEEN six years since Savannah’s Jewish community sponsored the First Annual Joan and Murray Gefen Memorial Savannah Jewish Film Festival — the initial funding for which came through a donation by the Gefens' children.
“The Gefens derived great enjoyment from the cultural scene in Savannah,” explains Lynn Levine, director of the Savannah Jewish Federation. “Their daughters thought this would be a nice and fitting way to honor their memory.”
Yet, due primarily to personnel changes in Levine’s organization, the festival has not been mounted since 2005. “Basically,” explains Levine, “we had to find a new crew of volunteers to take this on.”
“It was always a popular event we wanted to bring back. Now, we have more staff involvement than ever before.”
Described as the most ambitious event of its type ever mounted in Savannah, this year’s eagerly awaited resurrection of the Jewish Film Festival offers a fairly staggering lineup of 18 movies held in four unique venues and spread across 12 days. It includes little-known indies as well as critically-acclaimed features — and while most are documentaries, there are several comedies and one drama included.
Levine describes the 2009 Jewish Film Festival as “much broader, and a little grander in scope” than earlier outings — adding that while there are no formally published criteria for what sort of movies her organization seeks out, generally speaking, the common themes are (not surprisingly), Judaism and Israeli culture.
“I think the aim of the Festival is to offer movies that spotlight the diverse Jewish experience in the modern world.”
The notion of diversity crops up frequently when discussing this event with Levine. She is quick to point out that her organization does not tailor the Festival only for those of the Jewish faith.
“We’re certainly hoping to see a wide array of people from across the city at these screenings,” she offers. “We hope we’ve chosen films that appeal to a broad spectrum of people.”
“These films address all sorts of universal issues. Praying With Lior, for example, is about a special needs child preparing for a Bar Mitzvah. But it’s really about the special roles that faith and family can play in any person’s life — no matter what their faith. Black Over White is a wonderful story about multi-culturalism, and Encounter Point is such a timely look at the struggles in the Middle East and people’s hopes for a nonviolent solution to that situation.”
“So many of this year’s films offer really broad stories. That’s what we hope to continue in the years to come.”
Levine says her organization is especially excited about the handful of local partnerships they have developed this year. For example: like-minded group The Psychotronic Film Society is co-sponsoring two of the more offbeat pictures in the series (at the JEA’s own auditorium), while the City of Savannah is funding a special free screening at Trustees Theater of the aforementioned Encounter Point, with a special appearance by and Q & A with the film’s director Ronit Avni.
“It’s very unusual to have a free screening at a festival of this type,” enthuses Levine. “And the next day, the director will take part in a workshop with students from the Chatham/Savannah School System.”
“But that’s the beauty of a festival, you know? You spread it around to different venues to make it accessible to the widest range of audience members and you work with other groups to take advantage of all the great resources our city has to offer.” cs
2009 Joan & Murray Gefen Mem. Savannah Jewish Film Fest
When: Feb. 25 - March 8
Where: JEA Auditorium, Trustees Theater, Victory Square Cinemas, Westin Hotel
Cost: $9 per film ($7 for JEA Members, Students & Seniors w/ID) - Discount Festival Passes Available
Full Schedule & Info: savj.org, 355-8111