The 2023 Atlanta Jewish Film Festival Opening Night Gala festivities kicked off Wednesday night, Feb. 7, at City Springs.
Around 750 fans dined and reveled in “just being back in person” in one of Jewish Atlanta’s most treasured annual events. The AJFF will run through Feb. 21 at City Springs, Landmark Midtown Art Cinema, Plaza Theatre, Merchants Walk, and Woodruff Arts Rich Auditorium, as well as some opportunities via Zoom.
The Gala night’s movie selection was “Karaoke,” which was touted as a tale of middle life and self-discovery which received 14 Israeli Academy Award nominations. AJFF Executive Director Kenny Blank said, “This year’s festival is about curiosity, conversation, and community…and sharing movies on a big screen with live audiences, the way movies were intended to be seen.”
Attorney and chairman of the board of the AJFF, Sari Earl, declared, “I am over the moon tonight to celebrate with all of Atlanta and our hundreds of volunteers, staff, and committees year after year where we have become family.”
The crowd hummed with excitement, mingling with local politicians, members of the Israeli Consulate of the Southeast, sponsors, and Israeli stars flown in for the occasion. Event co-chair Leah Blum explained how many films (110 from March through November) she previewed and the long-standing relationship she shares with event co-chair, Martha Jo Katz, as “South Georgia cousins.”
Greenberg Traurig’s managing shareholder Ted Blum laughed and said, “It’s hard to keep up with Leah as she brings the community back together here. I just sit back and watch her do her thing.” Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul said, “The excitement of opening night is amazing here at City Springs. And we are pleased to work out free parking for the festival.”
Even artsy executives from the Breman Museum, Leslie Gordon and David Shendowich, weighed in, “We just come to be entertained,” said Shendowich. Gordon had her sights set on “Love Gets a Room,” and “Leopoldstadt,” an epic about a Jewish upper-crust family in Vienna.
Sponsor Ed Mendel was in search of funny escape movies, while Barbara Mendel was committed to see “Perfect Strangers,” about an Israeli dinner party where lifelong friends leave their phones unlocked to share secrets.
Long-serving committee screener Harissa Levin remarked, “I have watched 200 films in five months. Our staff and volunteers are so ‘into it’ and working for the right reason – bringing the Jewish community together to share these movie treasures with Jews and non-Jews. We all have to learn about our culture, history, and problems with Israel’s neighbors.”
Karen Isenberg Jones, director of government affairs for the Consulate General of Israel for the Southeast, was proud that so many Israeli writers, actors, and producers flew here to appear live on panels. Israeli Consulate of the Southeast Director of Public Affairs Aaron Braunstein hosted Israeli/Ethiopian Shai Fredo, film and theater actor (“Exodus 91”), who is now scholar/artist in residence at historic Black university Clark Atlanta, “as the first Israeli to do so.”
Fredo told the AJT that he grew up in Moshav Bakoaa, got his film and theatre credentials at Nismativ Studio, and is enjoying campus lecturing and teaching.
The crowd moved into the main auditorium to be greeted by a video from the American Jewish Committee, and personal greetings from Earl and Blank. Coca-Cola sponsor Tameka Harper, global chief diversity equity and inclusion officer, spoke of the 60 films which will inspire cultural identity through film. She added, “Of course, with an ice-cold Coke in hand.”
Off to the stage side, a spotlight found Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens alongside Mayor Paul, who spoke of the synergy between them. Dickens concentrated on his intention to draw circles in forming relationships and how movies bridge divides…plugging how Georgia also has become a hub for film and TV. Paul spoke of how “Moses and his co-author” wrote on stone tablets, followed by the invention of paper and film to tell stories.” Self effacing Paul noted, “I was an English lit major, which qualifies me to be mayor and to know about this.”
After “Karaoke,” CNN’s Holly Firfer appeared in conversation with the movie’s Israeli filmmaker, Moshe Rosenthal. A dessert reception followed.
- Marcia Caller Jaffe
- Atlanta Jewish Film Festival
- city springs
- Landmark Midtown Art Cinema
- Plaza Theatre
- Merchants Walk
- Woodruff Arts Rich Auditorium
- Israeli Academy Award
- Kenny Blank
- Sari Earl
- Israeli Consulate of the Southeast
- Leah Blum
- Martha Jo Katz
- Greenberg Traurig
- Ted Blum
- Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul
- Breman Museum
- Leslie Gordon
- David Shendowich
- Love Gets a Room
- Ed Mendel
- Barbara Mendel
- Perfect Strangers
- Harissa Levin
- Karen Isenberg Jones
- Aaron Braunstein
- Shai Fredo
- Moshav Bakoaa
- Nismativ Studio
- American Jewish Committee
- Tameka Harper
- Andre Dickens