Philadelphia Jewish Film and Media wrapped up its annual Fall Fest on Nov. 18, and at the helm once again was Kristen Arter, the organization’s executive director.
A New Jersey native and graduate of the University of the Arts and La Salle University, Arter has been with the organization for 16 years. Her work there culminates a long and complex spiritual journey.
“I did not grow up in a religious or cultural Jewish house,” she said.
Arter was born in Camden, but her family moved first to Grove City, Pennsylvania, and then to Medford, New Jersey, where she spent most of her childhood.
By college, she was commuting on PATCO from Medford to Center City, which she described as a “schlep.” She lives in Collingswood, New Jersey, today.
Arter got her start in the arts world as a teenager, booking bands at area venues, while she also “participated in every art competition I could find, and started my future music and art career trajectory,” she said.
However, she found that those religious values “at times [were] somewhat problematic in my strong desire to enrich myself in the art and music scene.”
That brought about a change when, in her late 20, she immersed herself “in Jewish culture and community,” Arter said.
“I am very grateful that it was ingrained in me how important it is to have a community and to serve your community,” she said.
One thing that brought Arter to the organization now known as PJFM was a lifelong love of film.
“At an early age, I was captivated by the power of storytelling through film. I have loved film ever since then, and I continue to be fascinated by the power of this medium,” she said, name-checking “The Neverending Story” as a film that was important to her from a young age.
PJFM traces its lineage to the establishment of the Young Men’s Hebrew Association in 1875, and it has undergone numerous changes in name, location and emphasis over the years, including during Arter’s time with the organization.
“Our most recent name and mission change includes ‘media.’ In recent years, there has been a convergence between digital media and film,” she said. “We are seeing generational preferences in how visual communications are being consumed. To stay multi-generational inclusive, PJFM must stay on top of what visual communications are relevant or even revolutionize how we consume information, educate, and entertain.”
This year’s Fall Fest, like every other Jewish event in recent weeks, took place in the shadow of the Oct. 7 attacks and the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas. The event carried on, with no changes to the program and little else different from what was originally planned, except for additional security.
“First and foremost, despite the challenges, and trust me, there were challenges, PJFM was committed to carrying on with Fall Fest,” she said. “Around the world, we watched other organizations postpone or cancel their events, and after careful consideration, we knew we needed to bring people together and celebrate Jewish culture. This is a time to stand together, be together and share our humanity. However, we knew safety and security would be on everyone’s mind. It was important for PJFM to show up for the community and not be intimidated by hate.”
The festival “went smoothly,” she said, with about 1,500 people attending events over the seven days at several local venues, and no incidents reported.
Up next in 2024 for PJFM is a three-day streaming period of films from the Fall Fest in January, as well as a special screening on International Women’s Day, a “Shorts Day” and the four-day Lindy SpringFest in April.
“In addition to watching movies, I enjoy learning about the filmmaking process. I am fascinated by how films are made and appreciate the creativity and artistry that goes into every shot. It is just as important to acknowledge the creators and not just the body of work, especially at Jewish festivals. We want to celebrate Jewish artistry,” Arter said. T
Stephen Silver is a Broomall-based freelance writer.