As normalcy was jolted in spring of 2020, young filmmaker Jacob Ross, 31, went into “action” on a documentary scheduled to be released soon.
“Our upcoming film ‘Atlanta: A City Too Busy to Wait,’ documents how the Atlanta Jewish community responded to the complex challenges caused by the COVID-19 crisis with unprecedented generosity, creativity, selflessness and collaboration,” Ross said. “This film is dedicated to Atlanta’s remarkable Jewish community and highlights the resilience, optimism and can-do approach of its many organizations, professionals, lay leaders and individuals.”
Ross, who grew up in Atlanta, became a bar mitzvah at Congregation Beth Tefillah, attended the Woodward Academy and American University, majoring in music and business. His first film was “Beneath the Helmet,” a documentary about Israeli paratroopers. More recently, he directed a short film with current business partner and longtime Atlantan Adam Hirsch, “No Pork on the Fork,” which premiered at the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival last year, received awards and is being shown around the world.
The current film, “Atlanta: The City Too Busy to Wait,” evolved in March as the pandemic began. Gabby Spatt, one of the film’s producers, reached out to Hirsch about documenting the pandemic story, and specifically about how it was affecting the Jewish community.
Hirsch and Ross had initially planned to make a documentary about the history of the Atlanta Jewish community. When the idea of focusing on the present day in the midst of the pandemic surfaced, they knew that took priority. They were also fortunate to receive a generous Propel grant from the Innovation Fund of the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta. Further, they are AJFF’s inaugural project for the new Filmmaker Fund.
While music was Ross’ first love, he found that filmmaking gave a similar creative outlet, along with a practical way to make a living. After moving back from Israel after five years, he decided that he would spend some evaluation time back in his hometown. Fortunately, Atlanta had developed into a huge hub for filmmaking, and he was able to establish connections. After three years, he recognized that Atlanta was a wonderful place not only for his line of work, but also because of the warm Jewish community, and decided to stay.
The more recent backstory: Hirsch and Ross met a few years after his move back from Israel. Their first real collaboration began at the AJFF opening night, when they made a promise to have a film of their own in the next festival. A year later in 2020, they premiered “No Pork on the Fork” and have been film partners ever since. Ross says, “Adam is extremely personable and an expert interviewer, and I focus on the production and post-production.”
Samples of the movie’s storylines: for the high holiday section, they secured perspectives from the varied Jewish denominations. They also interviewed Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, former U.S. ambassador Andrew Young and Israel Consul General Anat Sultan-Dadon, in addition to featuring the Federation, Jewish Family & Career Services, Jewish Interest Free Loan of Atlanta, In the City Camps, Camp Barney Medintz, and Ipsum Diagnostics, which does COVID testing. The film, which runs about 45 minutes, will most likely be a virtual experience, but that is yet to be determined.
“We’ve seen Jewish organizations reinventing their programming, synagogues recreating their holy spaces online, entrepreneurs emerging with new ideas, and Jewish values of chesed, tzedakah and gemilut hasadim [kindness, charity and loving kindness] being called on to sustain the community,” Ross said.
“Another great example, we learned that the Kosher Food Pantry at JF&CS has really stepped up to the challenge of the pandemic. Last year, they gave out 17,000 pounds of food and this year, they have already given out over 250,000 pounds of food. We were able to get a tour of the pantry and learn how they have been providing for the community in this time of need.
“This has been a time where this community has truly risen up to help out and care for each other. Every organization we filmed or spoke to has shown how much they were willing to work and help other organizations that they might not have helped in the past. It truly felt like a community and that we are all in this together. Egos were left at the door.”