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The Birth of the Jewish Film Festival

Renee Eder on Monday, March 28, 2016

Natalie Portman, Gal Gadot, Adam Sandler, Seth Rogen, and Mila Kunis: they are all household names in Hollywood – and they’re all Jewish. So what significance does the prevalence of Jewish artists have in film history, and how did film festivals that feature Jewish films and artists come to be?

A Brief History

Jewish films and Jewish film directors have a long history in Hollywood. For nearly as long as films have been made, movies have been influenced by Jewish characters, themes, and plots, as well as by Jewish directors, actors, and especially, executives and producers. Jewish people played – and continue to play – a pivotal role in the Hollywood movie studios, while Jews and Judaism have appeared in films in different ways and degrees throughout the history of film. For more on the history of Jewish film, dating back 100 years ago, please read our blog post, "Jewish Influence in Film."

Jewish Film Festivals

For more than two decades, Jewish film festivals, which spotlight these films, have been held not only in such obvious places as New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, but also in Omaha, Fresno, and northeast Pennsylvania (and of course, Northern Virginia!)  Others are held in Canada and some two dozen in foreign cities, including Brighton, England; São Paolo, Brazil; La Paz, Bolivia; and Hong Kong. “It is a remarkable network that has developed — big, small, and medium-sized festivals — all over the place,” says filmmaker Bonnie Burt. “They are cropping up like little mushrooms.”

What is nice about the Jewish film festivals, in addition to creating a community, is that they offer a venue for us to celebrate what being Jewish is all about — to rejoice in the best things about Jewish culture, history, accomplishments and identity and to critically address the tough issues and challenges that face us as a people. And, the festivals aren’t only for Jewish people. They are a place where others can come and learn about us, and because Jewish films so often explore the diversity of Jewish identity we can all learn about other cultures.

The Northern Virginia Jewish Film Festival is April 7-17, 2016

The 16th annual Northern Virginia Jewish Film Festival, powered by the JCCNV, will screen 14 contemporary Jewish-themed and/or Israeli-made feature films that explore identity and place in the world. Opening night on April 7 features the new British comedy Dough; other films to be screened are À la Vie, A Blind Hero: The Love of Otto Weidt, Belle and Sebastian, Bulgarian Rhapsody, In Search of Israeli Cuisine, Laugh Lines, Raise the Roof, Rosenwald, Sabena Hijacking – My Version, Suicide, Time to Say Goodbye, To Life, and  Wedding Doll. Learn more and buy tickets  here.

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