Those missing the buttery taste of movie theater popcorn finally have the chance to nosh on their favorite cinema snacks once more, as in-person screenings return for the 41st Annual Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival: Fall Fest.
Presented by Philadelphia Jewish Film and Media, formerly the Gershman Philadelphia Film Festival, the film festival will run from Nov. 7-20, with both in-person screenings and virtual on-demand streaming options.
In addition to the in-person screenings of nine films, PJFM will offer 22 weeklong on-demand screenings both weeks of the festival and select virtual livestreams.
PJFM’s first hybrid film festival isn’t the only thing differentiating this year’s Fall Fest from its predecessors.
“We’ve changed a lot in the past year,” said Olivia Antsis, PJFM’s executive artistic director.
PJFM’s new name, with the intentional addition of the word “media,” better reflects the trending interest in multimedia cinema and art that branches off from the traditional film format.
“The advent of social media and video sharing platforms like YouTube and Tik Tok has made it possible for anyone with access to a smartphone and an internet connection to create content and share it across the globe,” Antsis said.
Besides feature-length films, the Fall Fest will show short films and the second annual New Media Day, an opportunity to sample multimedia Jewish digital storytelling, which was created last year as a way to adapt to the virtual restrictions of the pandemic. Last year’s event was a “resounding success,” according to Antsis, and had nearly 1,000 attendees.
Along with the festival format and its offerings changing, the content of the films will also differ, featuring stories of Jews from across the globe, and even some stories from non-Jewish perspectives.
The decision to expand PJFM’s programming came from the feedback of more than two dozen Jewish movie lovers who felt that Jewish film needed to be as diverse as the Jewish community it was meant to serve.
“There was a hunger for films that offered new and diverse perspectives on some of the common themes and topics explored at Jewish film festivals around the world,” Antsis said.
Antsis is looking forward to audiences viewing “200 Meters,” the story of a Palestinian man in his struggle to visit his son, who is just 200 meters away, but on the other side of an Israeli checkpoint.
“Wet Dog” also provides a unique point of view, Antsis said, as the film depicts an Iranian Jew’s experience in a predominantly Muslim area of Berlin, where he runs into and joins a gang with members spewing antisemitic beliefs.
“One of the most valuable gifts film festivals can offer to their audiences is the opportunity to broaden their worldview and increase empathy and understanding,” Antsis said.
PJFM believes that a diversity in film content will attract a diversity of audience members, hoping to draw in younger crowds who may not be familiar with the film festival.
Over the summer, PJFM launched Young Friends, an initiative for Jewish young professionals, creatives and movie lovers aged 21-39 to become more involved in Jewish film events. Young Friends offers viewings, movie discounts and special events.
“We’re actually Philadelphia’s first film festival; we’re the second-longest-running Jewish film festival in the country,” said Matt Bussy, PJFM’s program and digital marketing manager. “There’s a lot of younger people here in Philly that haven’t even heard of us, and we really feel like we can change that.”
During Fall Fest, PJFM will host a Young Friends Night on Nov. 10 at 7 p.m. at the National Museum of American Jewish History for a screening of “American Birthright,” a documentary about the filmmaker’s journey — both physical and spiritual — to Israel, as she explores the idea of interfaith marriage after her sister marries a non-Jew.
Following the screening, Young Friends members are invited to attend a happy hour with documentary director Becky Tahel Bordo.
“American Birthright” is a film for all audiences, Bussy said, but its light-hearted nature and generationally-relevant topic make it a good fit for Young Friends members.
“Young people, especially after the year we’ve had, just want to have a good time,” Bussy said. “They want to meet new people; they want to watch entertaining films that are perceptive and well done, but also just fun.”
Proof of COVID vaccination with a vaccine card or photo of a card is required for in-person screenings. Masks are required inside, and there is limited capacity in the theaters.
Tickets for individual events are $15, and all-access passes are $180 for in-person and virtual screenings, $140 for virtual-only screenings and $40 for New Media Day. For more information, visit phillyjfm.org.
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