Atlanta Jewish Film Festival partners with Emory for campus screenings

By April Hunt | Emory Report | Oct. 23, 2018

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“East LA Interchange,” an examination of gentrification and demographic shifts as seen by an immigrant in an older neighborhood in East Los Angeles, screens Tuesday, Oct. 30, at Emory. The event features a discussion with filmmaker Betsy Kalin; Emory students taking “Documentary Film and Media History” will attend.

The Atlanta Jewish Film Festival On Campus returns to Emory Oct. 28-30, bringing cutting-edge international films, documentaries and post-screening discussions.

The three-day mini-festival features five films that have previously screened at the broader Atlanta Jewish Film Festival, selected to tie in to current Emory College course topics as well as broader societal themes designed to engage both students and the broader community.

For instance, students in Jose Luis Boigues’ “Theater, Film and Performing Art” course will be in the audience for the AJFF On Campus opening night showing of “Only Human.”

The farce about a Jewish TV reporter who brings her Palestinian fiancé home to meet her parents could have been set, based on the plot action, in multiple countries. That it takes place in Spain, where the two faiths lived together in the Middle Ages, could be significant to the comedy’s underlying tension.

“Our course goal is to ensure students can analyze Hispanic films and theater in a cultural context,” says Boigues, a senior lecturer in Spanish and Portuguese. “This is an opportunity for them to conduct a critical analysis of various filmic elements such as the setting and the characters and even the genre.”

AJFF Executive Director Kenny Blank hopes those sorts of observations pop up during Q-and-A sessions following the screenings. Officially, the goal of both the AJFF and its on campus event is simply to expose audiences to films from around the globe.

But because the films are open to the public, the campus events have the potential to create multi-generational discussions and debates.

“We see this as a great opportunity to engage college students not just with the films, but with the community,” Blank says. “Many of these films really prompt a need for a deeper conversation, which dovetails nicely with what students are learning in class.”

 The power of community partnerships

As chair of Emory’s Department of Film and Media Studies and AJFF board member, Matthew Bernstein was instrumental in bringing the inaugural AJFF On Campus event last year and its return this fall.

Like the larger festival held every winter, the campus festival carries the theme of building bridges through understanding. That extends beyond film topics to the collaboration itself, Bernstein says.

“There is great power in our current students seeing a community that has a lifelong engagement in the arts,” he says. “The festival is a perfect example of Emory and the Atlanta community partnering to create a new event for everyone.”

The event also translates classroom teachings to real-world experience. Students in Timothy Holland’s “Documentary Film and Media History” course are spending the fall term discussing the frameworks documentaries use in capturing societal issues.

They will view “East LA Interchange,” an examination of gentrification and demographic shifts as seen by an immigrant in an older neighborhood in East Los Angeles. The points of view and issues will be part of Holland’s class discussion, which he expects will include references to similar shifts in Atlanta neighborhoods.

But the students — and all film goers — will have additional fodder for their input. Filmmaker Betsy Kalin will be on hand for the post-screening discussion about the documentary.

“Any time the classroom expands and the students can see their coursework in the public sphere, it’s an educational moment,” says Holland, an assistant professor of film and media studies. “What we study is not contained in an ivory tower.”