In 2006, the inaugural Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival, proved to be not only a successful program, but filled a cultural void in the Los Angeles Jewish community. Based on that feedback, the second installment of LAJFF in 2007 expanded into the city and valley areas continuing to offer affiliated Jews, unaffiliated Jews and non-Jews an opportunity to open up new dialogues, meet emerging filmmakers, Jewish scholars and celebrities and have a first look at the latest feature films, documentaries and shorts all dealing with Jewish thought, tradition, history and culture. The festival attempts to show the universality of Jewish values and experience through the diversity of the subjects of the films screened annually.
In LAJFF’s premiere year, approximately 2500 tickets were sold to attend screenings of 20 films, across six days in eight venues, with multiple sold out shows. By the fourth year we expanded the festival to 30+ films in 14 venues citywide and increased ticket sales by more than 75%. Film programs accompanied by panel discussions were developed with the support of community partners including the Anti-Defamation League, the Goethe Institute, Jewish World Watch, Dodgers Dream Foundation, Yiddishkayt, JDate, and others. We engaged the participation of multiple consulates (Israeli, Polish, French, Austrian, Ethiopian, etc.) and over a dozen synagogues partners citywide.
LAJFF is innovative. In the 2008 festival, award presentations were made to two legendary “Jewish” pioneers: Joan Rivers and Theodore Bikel. Also in 2008, LAJFF launched a special program to celebrate young filmmakers by hosting a program of short films created by the students at the Jewish day and high schools. “The goal is to offer a real learning opportunity for young Jews who can make a difference in the future.” says Carol Koransky, Executive Director of the Jewish Federation Valley Alliance. The program has since grown, now known to students and families citywide as the jTeenLA FilmFest, co-presented by the BJE (Builders of Jewish Education.)
In 2009, LAJFF was the first to premiere Patrick Swayze’s last film, “Jump“, accompanied by a tribute to the late great actor and the last public event honoring his work before his death. LAJFF was also the first to premiere films such as the “The Little Traitor,” David Cronenberg’s “A Dangerous Method,” Agneiska Holland’s “In Darkness,” and two Oscar-winning shorts, “Toyland” and “West Bank Story.” Panelists who spoke at LAJFF included Alfred Molina, Jon Voight, Garry Marshall, David Cronenberg, Maximilian Schell, Larry Miller, Lainie Kazan, and others.
In 2010 LAJFF made great strides with yet more innovative programming with films that reached out to the African American and Latino communities including the premiere of Antwone Fisher’s film, “My Summer Friend,” with a discussion with Mr. Fisher himself. The film screened with Jesse Eisenberg’s “Holy Rollers” to a vastly multi-cultural audience.
In 2011, LAJFF screened the film “Jews and Baseball, An American Love Story” to a sold out audience, followed by a Q & A with Josh Rawitch, ex-Los Angeles Dodger executive and Gabe Kapler, a retired ballplayer. Also in 2011, the festival premiered “An Article of Hope” about Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon. The screening was accompanied by an appearance and discussion with American astronaut and icon, Buzz Aldrin and took place on the 50th anniversary of the first American in space. The film recently premiered on PBS (2013).
2012 marked the 100th anniversary of both Universal and Paramount Studios. LAJFF joined the celebration of Hollywood and its history with the Los Angeles premiere of “Tony Curtis: Driven to Stardom.” A pre-film discussion took place with Sally Kellerman, Mamie Van Doren, Jill Vandenburg Curtis, Theresa Russell and special guests included Eliott Gould, Shirley Jones, Ed Lauter, Sara Rue, John Savage, and others. LAJFF continued the celebration of Hollywood by premiering the 1924 SILENT FILM sensation, “The Moon of Israel,” the first blockbuster directed by Michael Curtis (Casablanca), accompanied by renowned Austrian pianist, Gerhard Gruber.