Jewish Film Festival celebrates its 9th year in Charlotte

02/22/2013 12:00 AM

02/20/2013 2:59 PM

Charlotte will welcome the ninth Annual Charlotte Jewish Film Festival from March 2-17 with 11 foreign and domestic films that range from documentary, drama, to romantic comedy plus an additional film “The Seder on Planet Matzah Ball” that will appeal to the early childhood set.

The festival began as a two-film showing at the Light Factory in 2005 under the leadership of then Hadassah co-chairwomen Debby Block and Amy Montoni. It expanded to a one-week event under the leadership of Jodi Werner Greenwald, who chaired the Charlotte Jewish Film Festival from 2007 to 2011, and continues to grow under Jeff Turk’s leadership since 2012.

New additions to the festival in 2013 are the screening of the early childhood film and program, screenings at the Lake Norman and a mobile app. The festival was also invited to participate in the Sensoria, a celebration of the arts at Central Piedmont Community College.

The Charlotte Jewish Film Festival is a volunteer-run festival “brought to (Charlotte) by the Levine JCC and the Charlotte Chapter of Hadassah, and is made possible, in part, with funding by the Arts & Science Council and the North Carolina Arts Council, an agency of the Department of Cultural Resources, and the National Endowment for the Arts,” according to the website, www.charlottejewishfilm.com.

Last year the festival won Charlotte Magazine’s 2012 Voter’s Choice Best of the Best for local film festival or series, and the festival organizers hope the festival continues to grow in quality and audience satisfaction.

Benton Woods resident and executive recruiter Jeff Turk has been the chairman of the festival for the last two years. “The films are not just for Jewish audiences,” said Turk, 55. “Non-Jewish people enjoy the films on their own and also enjoy learning about the global Jewish experience, cultural, history, the people.”

Sherry and Sam Williams live near SouthPark. They read about the festival and attended all the films in 2012. As non-Jews, they also found the festival to be warm and welcoming.

“We enjoyed the films very much,” said Sherry. “The acting was wonderful.”

All films have Jewish content, and a volunteer film screening committee led by Rick Willenzik, curator of the festival, chooses them based on a rating scale.

TV producer Willenzik, 57, screened approximately 60 films and brought about 20 films to his committee of 12 volunteers, who range in age from 20’s to 60’s.

Neonatologist, David Greenberg, 50, is the ticketing director for the festival and is also on the film selection committee.

“We met once a week, screened a film every week, and rated the film after we saw it,” said Greenberg.

They rated each film based on different criteria.

“Did the film get your interest and affect you emotionally,” said Greenberg. “Was it entertaining? Was it educational? Was it thought provoking? Did it have good production value? Is the Jewish Content significant and relevant to this story? Would it appeal to Charlotte audiences? Is there any outreach potential for interfaith or outreach groups?”

Willenzik put together a schedule of films based on the tabulation of the committee’s ratings, and he doesn’t have a favorite.

“They are all my babies,” said Willenzik.

The documentary “Hava Nagila (The Movie)” will open the festival at Temple Israel on March 2. The film’s director Roberta Grossman will make a special appearance, and a catered dessert reception and musical entertainment will follow the screening.

“‘Hava Nagila’ is so much a part of our culture,” said Willenzik. “There is pride to learn more about your culture, and for the general community it is important to learn about other religions and other cultures around you.”

“The most surprising film was “A.K.A. Doc Pomus,” said Willenzik. “Jerome Felder was a self-described ‘fat Jewish boy with polio’ who became the most prolific songwriter with 13 songs on the Billboard Top 100 chart at the same time.”

“Most films would not be seen in Charlotte if it were not for this film festival,” said Turk. “Audiences will be entertained, illuminated, and on certain nights, they will be fed.”

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