Jewish Film Festivals is platform for others to share stories

Steve Pressman’s wife’s grandparents could be seen as heroes in some eyes.

During the Holocaust, the Philadelphia natives took it upon themselves to travel to Vienna to save 50 children by bringing them back to their hometown.

Now, Pressman’s retelling their story by way of film.

Every year the Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival gives filmmakers the opportunity to share Pressman’s wife’s grandparent’s story and many like that, and more than 500 have been told through the 33-year standing festival.

Not only is it Philadelphia’s first festival ever created, but it is also the second longest running movie festival in the country.

Pressman, the director and producer of “50 Children: The Rescue Mission of Mr. And Mrs. Kraus” about his grandparents, said he has seen the light that can shine from the Jewish Film Festival, held at the Gershman Y, Mondays until April 28.

“There are scenes, archival footage, you know, all from Philadelphia in the 1930s. It’s there — the people watching, city, there’s one particular piece somewhere where you see City Hall from Market street,” Pressman said. “There are cars from the 1930’s, trolleys from the 1930’s, you can see that Philadelphian’s have a sense of pride and identity with this incredible story.”

The 2013 Fall Festival wasn’t Pressman’s first time as a part of the festival. He originally showed his film in March of 2012 at the Jewish Film Festival, and from there the film got reworked, shown on HBO a year later and then re-shown at the last big festival.

“The reaction, I remember it vividly,” Pressman said. “When it was first shown it was this incredible turnout, and it was stunning to me. I showed up not knowing how many people were going to show up, it was sold out, people were hoping to get in. It was just, really, a great experience.”

The film festival sometimes asks distributors or producers, directors or writers to share their film, but many companies will pitch their film instead.

Clemence Taillandier who works for Zeitgeist Films will send out a mass email letting Jewish film festivals know that they have Jewish content, and from there, the festival will reach out if there are any specific films they are interested in showcasing.

Last year, “Koch” and “Hannah Arendt” got picked up. Taillandier can then see whether there is a strong reaction or not, and that will help with the decision to take the movie to theaters.

Ray Meirovitz, who has distributed films through the company EZ Festivals, said he likes to hear feedback from large city festivals, but also believes that film festivals in smaller counties are just as needed.

“I do not think it is more important in a major city than a small one,” Meirovitz said. “What matters is to gather a group of people and show them something different than their everyday life through culture, in this case, cinema culture. I also believe it is important to keep a connection between American Jews and Jews from the rest of the world. Not everyone has the chance to go around the world and our films give a small insight of different points of views outside of the US.”

Meirovitz was able to show Philadelphia a sense of different culture through the film “Noodle,” an Israeli-Chinese that was shown during the fall line-up.

Pressman said he sees film festivals as a major opportunity to celebrate and express different backgrounds and individuality.

“Film is a very powerful way to do that. It’s a shared experience coming to see a film that touches on various aspects on their lives. This applies to other festivals as well, gay and lesbian festivals, other ethnic festivals. It’s really a way of celebrating ourselves.”

Chelsea Finn can be reached at chelsea.finn@temple.edu

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