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New Group Tries to Lure Young Viewers to Films

March 29, 2007 By:
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Young Friends of the Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival schmooze for a while after seeing "Love, Iranian-American Style." Photo by Eddie Russ
Hip-looking twenty- and thirty-somethings drifted about a sleek, white-washed gallery Monday night, sipping wine, sampling hors d'oeuvres and discussing cinema.

Though the space felt like a chic Old City gallery, the venue, in fact, was none other than the Gershman Y, and the topic at hand was Jewish film.

The host for this affair was the Young Friends of the Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival, a new under-45 offshoot of the Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival.

By planning events that appeal to a younger crowd, and then running them concurrently with film screenings, the group aims to bring a new demographic into festival doors.

"We're building the next generation of people at this great Philadelphia resource," said 37-year-old Rachel Stein, chair of the 10-member Young Friends group. "We're trying to build a community of young people who come to the festival and feel at home here."

The group, about a year-and-a-half old now, was launched at the request of festival staff, who recognized that their audiences often lacked younger patronage.

"Like most of the arts, most of the theater world, the audience here is substantially of a certain age," said Robert Arrow, the festival's coordinator of film programs. "We knew we had to do different things to attract young people."

The hope, continued Arrow, was that a peer-based recruiting model would fare better than the existing outreach plan.

"There's no question that the films presented here are for all ages," he said, citing movies centered around subjects like dating, diversity and assimilation, among others. "The trick is to get them in the door."

The Young Friends marketing strategy includes prescreening all festival offerings (over a series of potluck dinners at one member's Center City house), then brainstorming ways to create buzz-generating programs around the pictures themselves.

After an Israeli film screening in December, for example, Young Friends hosted a falafel and folk-dance party; bellydancers and Turkish delicacies followed a February movie about Turkish and Romanian immigrants in Israel.

Monday's soirée was coupled with a movie called "Love, Iranian-American Style," which revealed some of the dating woes of a young Persian female Jew. The filmmaker's mother, Mahrokh Eshaghian, attended the Young Friends post-party.

Stein emphasized that events offered by the group are free with the price of festival admission, which generally runs about $10 per screening, and that they're held at the Gershman Y.

Young Friends also often partners with other Jewish organizations, such as the Collaborative, the Jewish Graduate Student Network and the Philadelphia chapter of the Taglit Birthright Israel Alumni Association, to increase their distribution list.

Have the efforts yielded any success?

Yes, according to Arrow, who observed that since the group started, the number of festival attendees has "unquestionably" risen: "I see a lot of new faces I've never seen before."

To learn more, visit: www.pjff.org/young_friends.

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