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What the Boulder Jewish Film Festival Gets Right

My Hero Brother,” one of the most popular films on the festival circuit, has a special appeal for Boulder.

I recently attended a conference of Jewish film festival directors in Atlanta, and I wanted to share some of what I came away with. There are now a staggering 150 Jewish film festivals across the country, and most are part of the Jewish Film Presenters Network. There are exciting new developments in improving how the film festival world functions and how we communicate with each other.

In Atlanta – my first visit to this beautiful city – I was able to meet and learn from dozens of film festival professionals during a whirlwind of panels, speakers, workshops, small-group sessions, and of course, socializing.

POWERFUL PERSONALITY: Big Sonia herself will Skype after the screening of this current festival favorite.

I must confess that I came away feeling very proud of our little festival, despite our overall meager budget size and attendance. The larger, older festivals have much to admire in terms of capacity, resources, reach in the community, heavy sponsorship and wide corporate and agency support – the critical key to success. Many smaller festivals are finding creative ways to bring their communities together, and the big ones are being even more proactive about managing growth.

But despite Boulder’s modest size, we have a lot going for us, and are already doing some things right. Many festivals are programs of a JCC, others are attached to a sponsoring agency that uses the festival as a showcase for their organization. Our situation allows us to benefit from affiliation with the J, while also being highly visible and engaged in the wider community.

IS THAT YOU?: BJFF presents the Colorado premiere of Dani Menkin’s feature film, his first in English

We are especially fortunate in our venue, since many festivals take over commercial movie theaters that may not be conducive to the festival experience and require huge technical effort. Our relationship with the Boe and the Dairy Arts Center is a huge plus and I left Atlanta grateful to be sharing audiences and space with what has become a first-class showcase for the arts in Boulder.

I could also certainly boast of a loyal and growing audience that is sophisticated and discerning. For that, I also share credit with the Boe and with the Boulder International Film Festival, which are helping create an appreciative audience.

Our 20-odd titles are the very best in world cinema, and I am proud of our choices. We have most of the hot titles:  “On the Map,” which was also huge at the recently concluded Denver Jewish Film Festival; “My Hero Brother;” “Hummus: The Movie;” “Big Sonia;” and “Keep Quiet;” – all of which have been extremely popular.

DON’T FORGET TO SEE: “Remember” is one of the biggest hits in recent years on the Jewish Film Festival circuit, and played theatrically.

A few of our “slipped through the cracks” films, such as  “Remember” and “The Last Laugh” (also showing at BIFF) were huge festival hits last year. Although our documentaries are strongly showcased due to their vibrant, uplifting spirit, our feature films are all knockouts, including “Wedding Doll,” “Fever at Dawn,” “Dirty Wolves,” and our Colorado premiere of “Is That You?” with director Dani Menkin in person.

A WOULD-BE BRIDE:  “Wedding Doll” is one of the best features to come out of Israel this year.

There was much debate in Atlanta about the merits of programming committees versus professional program director, and our model is quite unique in our size category. The creativity of our programming, which includes themes and tributes and parties, is no doubt related to our stream-lined process. Also, my choice of “Wild Tales” for closing night despite minimal Jewish content is an example of that creative freedom. It will surely end the festival with a bang!

Our festival also scored high marks in the talk-back category, which many festivals struggle with. We exchanged tips about how to entice audiences to stay, and about building a culture of conversation that is central to the festival experience, a signature of our festival.

“Hummus: The Movie” is being shown at virtually every festival – proving the popularity of food-themed movies.

Of course, I have some work to do. I took notes. I stole ideas. I have some best practices to institute.

But as we enter year five of Boulder’s first Jewish film festival, I am extremely excited about our 11 days together in March. I look forward to celebrating world cinema with you, and to the conversation and exchange of ideas about to take place. I feel extremely fortunate. I hope you feel lucky too.

About Kathryn Bernheimer

Director of Menorah: Arts, Culture and Education at the Boulder JCC. The former film and theater critic for the Boulder Daily Camera, Kathryn is the author of "The Fifty Greatest Jewish Movies" and "The Fifty Funniest Films of All Time."

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