By Christopher Boan
The Greater Phoenix Jewish Film Festival is a labor of love for executive directors Barry Singer and Jerry Mittelman.
They work throughout the year to find the world’s best examples of Jewish film and Israeli TV programming for the annual festival, which is set for Sunday, February 9, to Sunday, February 23.
Singer gave a short and sweet reason about why Phoenicians flock to the event.
“They are great international films and they range from documentaries, to comedies to dramas,” Singer says. “They’re just good films. And as we say in our tagline, ‘Great films with a little Jewish flavor.’”
At the festival, filmgoers can watch a wide array of cinematic genres, with 32 new films and 13 short films being shown.
Singer and Mittelman have been involved for more than two decades, with both calling the event a can’t-miss occasion, regardless of the guest’s denomination.
According to Singer, the festival sprung out of a mutual love of film and a desire to share Jewish culture with the Valley as a whole, in a relaxed-yet-informative atmosphere.
The completely volunteer-led festival has run smoothly all these years, thanks to the effort put in by the likes of Singer and Mittelman, as well as dozens of others who share a common love of film.
“We’ve all done all of the jobs that are necessary to see this festival grow to something really big,” Mittelman says.
“The important thing is we have an all-volunteer team who works,” Mittelman says. “It’s a working board. The amiability and the collegiality with this group is something to behold. There’s nothing that seems to come in our way to interfere with the work that has to get done. Everybody is happy to do it.”
This year’s festival, which will be held at Harkins Shea (7354 E. Shea Boulevard), as well as Harkins Tempe Marketplace (2000 E. Rio Salado Parkway) and Harkins Park West (9804 W. Northern Avenue, Peoria) costs $11 for adults, or $150 for a festival pass that allows guests to watch all of the films once.
The film festival, which is the longest-running cinematic event in the Valley, features close to 2,900 minutes of Jewish cinema from 14 countries.
The festival’s entrants are selected by volunteers who scan the world to find the best examples of Jewish film, according to Mittelman.
The group meets once week, from the time the festival wraps up until the new one’s films are released, to collect and cultivate a well-rounded selection of films for the next year’s event.
Both men are quick to point out the festival is not a religious gathering, however, with the committee having no fear to censor what they show to audiences.
“No organization controls us. We’re not subject to any censorship, and it’s a very democratic system that we operate,” Mittelman says. “We have a small, deep, democratic system that we operate, and it’s worked successfully, and it’s helped our growth over the last 24 years.”
Singer adds in years’ past they’ve shown films that have drawn the ire of viewers, but that such artistic freedom is paramount to keeping the festival’s offerings fresh and thought-provoking.
Some screenings with featured guest speakers have caused guest to erupt, but Singer doesn’t chide that.
“That freedom, that independence, is very important to us,” Singer says. “And it’s almost unique in the Jewish film festival world, mostly affiliated with official other organizations.
“And the fact that we are independent and look, focus on the films and our audience is really a plus for us.”
A new facet of this year’s festival is a series of Israeli film student films from the Israeli Film Contest.
The top-three finishers from that contest will be shown at the festival, joining other Israeli television programming, like “Autonomies.”
Both men declined to name their favorite film, likening it to choosing a favorite child.
Mittelman’s answer to picking a favorite is for visitors to go on the festival’s website, gpjff.org, to cull through the full list of screenings to see what interests them.
That way, he says, everyone in the party will be sure to have a great time at the film festival.
“We get that question from our friends and family all the time,” Mittelman says. “So, we always tell them to take look at the website, because they’re all favorites in their own way.”
Greater Phoenix Jewish Film Festival, Harkins Shea (7354 E. Shea Boulevard, Scottsdale), Harkins Tempe Marketplace (2000 E. Rio Salado Parkway) and Harkins Park West (9804 W. Northern Avenue, Peoria), 602.753.9366, gpjff.org, various times Sunday, February 9, to Sunday, February 23, $11 adults, $7 students and active military, $150 festival pass.