400 Films and Counting …


The old saw said, "Don't trust anyone over 30." 

Does that include film festivals and their directors?

Trust us, says Judith Golden, the golden goal-oriented chair of the Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival www.gershmany.org/pjff.php as it celebrates its 30th anniversary and looks to the future with its usual eclectic list of flicks that click with connoisseurs and auteurs as well as historians and fans of histrionics.

It all gets set to unspool at the Gershman Y for a two-week run, beginning the evening of Nov. 6 with the local premiere of "The Klezmatics: On Holy Ground."

Golden hit the ground running — and sprinting and marathon-ing — 30 years ago along with the late Archie Perlmutter, whose programming choices sealed the deal of the festival's well-regarded reputation.

There's been a lot of buttered popcorn in between accompanying Jujyfruit-filled selections marked by local and world premieres and breakout directors who traffic in the best and the brightest.

No stop signs for Golden and company (Ruth Perlmutter, Archie's widow, is the festival's artistic director) who have braved the bold, the beautiful and the borderline eccentric all these years, bolstering Golden's contention that "we always have total variety, from all over the world."

That's always been their frame of reference, she adds, but they're not stuck or stagnating. "The last five years we have had many moves, departing from our previous series format," spread out over months rather than concentrated as other film festivals are over a short time span.

Talking about moving on up: It's the pictures that got small — or they seemed to be in the beginning, at first shown on inappropriately-sized screens to hold them, a flaw eventually fixed.

Then the other sticking point — helping audiences move out of their seats without those hilarious herky-jerky choreographed movements of discomfort from spending hours stuck to folding chairs.

That tuches-torture took a while to remedy — and some added funding — before the festival got cushy and comfy.

Comfy? No way to describe the festival's fiery choices, notes Golden, always "surprised by the vast number of films of Jewish concern being made; Jewish filmmaking in general has gotten more exciting over the years."

Making for some unorthodox choices compared to the seminal years. "There have been an increasing number of films about the Orthodox community, demonstrating the resurgence" of that branch of Judaism "in this country and Israel."

So what's the deal with other choices? Some are best forgotten, concedes Golden. Such as — "The Deal"? "We had some audience objections to that," Golden recalls of the comic caper about the making of a film about British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli with a rap star (LL Cool J) chilling out in the messy mix of a plot.

"Crass and crude" is not music to any film festival chief's ears, but that's the reaction that Golden's ears were ringing with.

Saved by the bell: With 400 films screened over 30 years, a clinker is allowable every now and then, she says. As long as fans notice the good ones, that is.

But does the city? "I don't think we've ever gotten the attention we deserve from the city," she says, while giving shout-outs of praise to Sharon Pinkenson, head of the Greater Philadelphia Film Office.

And it's not business as usual with the corporate world either. "We have not succeeded in gaining major corporate support" as had been hoped.

Hope is among the hype for the new season. Already established with its New Filmmakers Weekend, the festival falls in line for more adventure when its spring portion of the season unveils, including "The Art of Documentary Weekend," featuring Jennifer Fox, and a "Philmmaker Phorum."

Master of their celluloid domain? Yes, adds Golden, gearing up for a forum of master classes to be offered, going along nicely with the festival's eclectic and electric core of post-screening guest speakers.

Yes, 'Size' Does Matter
It's all "A Matter of Size" — indeed, that is more than just the title of their Nov. 7 screening, says Golden of the growth industry she claims to be the PJFF.

And nowhere has there been bigger bursting at the seams than in PJFF's breakout stars: "At our second New Filmmakers Weekend in 1998, we included a young man, Andrew Kosove, from the Philadelphia area, a graduate of Cheltenham High School, who had recently started his own film production company," says Golden.

"Andrew's goal was to produce commercial feature films, mainly with a family friendly aspect. In participating on our panel, he presented information about the business of filmmaking, which was an important addition for the other young filmmakers."

The sequel: "This past year Andrew appeared on our panel again, having, in the interim produced such films as 'My Dog Skip,' 'Insomnia,' 'The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants' " — original and sequel — " 'Racing Stripes,' and most recently, 'The Blind Side' and 'The Book of Eli.' "

He certainly has booked quite a career in the 12-year interim, agrees Golden of the principal of Alcon Entertainment and producer as well of "P.S. I Love You."

P.S., avers Kosove, here's a kiss of a compliment right back at ya: "The festival has been such an important part of the Philadelphia landscape for so many years," he says.

"So many inspirational stories are told, so many issues brought to light. It's just a great, worthy effort by so many dedicated people whom I respect and admire."

Others, too, have valued the role the festival has played in their own projected careers. Yoram Sachs, director of "Nymphs in the Mist," seems misty-eyed at recalling the screening of his film, which he attended last year after flying in from Israel.

"It warmed my heart to see the people who came to watch my film laugh and cry. It is such an encouraging thing in this crazy, bumpy, road of filmmaking — to know that there is an appreciative audience out there, after so much time and energy involved in making such an independent film.

"It is also wonderful to realize that a story about young people going about their lives in Tel Aviv can also resonate with audiences in distant parts of the world," the filmmaker added.

How far they've all traveled at PJFF since starting out, earning fans and a following in their globe-trotting journey, says Golden.

And after 30 years, she adds, it's nice to know they can still be trusted to triumph. 



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