What We Are Not

25 Apr

My previous blog talked about what we are.
This one will tell you what we are not.

This is how the program is created.
First and foremost, the film has to be a good one.

Films do not need to be made by a Jewish director and by the same token, a Jewish director’s film is not necessarily a Jewish film.

So, what IS a Jewish film? This is part of an ongoing discussion during our programming decisions.

Films about Jewish families-could be any family for example “Moos”, “Love is Thicker Than Water”, “The Pickle Recipe”.

Films that have Jewish characters in them-“No Pain Nudity”, “An Israeli Love Story”.

Films about famous people who happen to be Jewish-Ben Gurion, Mordecai Richler, Heather Booth.

Films MAY have an element of religion in them but it does not necessarily drive the story-“Praise the Lard””The Patriarch’s Room”.

We celebrate Jewish culture around the world and share it with people from all backgrounds to celebrate our common stories.

So, we are a cultural Festival, not a Religious one.

Welcome to our culture!

21 Mar


I was at a dinner party recently and of course we began talking about the film festival because it of its imminence.
After the usual reminiscing about the films that some of had seen, (both the good and the not so good) and their surprise that we were launching our 25th Festival, the conversation turned to finances.
Although most of them attend the Festival, a few were surprised to hear that TJFF is a charity with a charitable tax number that issues tax receipts for donations.
It was my turn to be astonished at their surprise, since our charitable tax number is printed on all our material, we do an annual campaign, and screen a donor Patron List before each film.
We began talking about Festival costs.
The thought seemed to be that when they enter the theatre, they just do the math. ( 300 people @$14 = 4200) Easy, the Festival made $4200.
Well, not so easy and the Festival did not make $4200
Why not?

1. People who buy passes pay less
2. Seniors pay less – a large part of our audience
3. Festival costs: film rental (films cost on average $500-$1500 USD per screening), theatre rental, guest travel and accommodations (can be thousands, technical staff, box office staff and equipment rental.
4. Getting the word out, our printed material, Public Relations, advertising.

All in all, ticket sales account for only 20% of TJFF’s operating expenses and like all film festivals, none of us make money.

(Over 100 Jewish festivals in the world and over 90 film festivals in Toronto)
In order to keep attendance affordable, prices are kept modest.

So, WHAT ARE WE? A charitable organization with a Festival that showcases Jewish life around the world.
And that is why we depend on your generosity.

To find out WHAT WE ARE NOT, you’ll have to read my next blog.

Two Films to Not Miss

1 May

After 24 years of previewing films, each year , I find a couple that astonish me.

This year the 2 films that amazed me were “Red Gold” and Imaginary Feasts”.

Red Gold, is the story of how our collection and storage of blood was necessary, and how it came to be. It was necessary because of war wounded but what was troubling was the fact that it could not be stored long enough to get it to the war zones.

Three German Jewish doctors, expelled from Germany, along with Dr. Norman Bethune, were instrumental in figuring out how to separate blood and plasma so that it could be shipped to where it was needed.

The back story of its effect on race relations is fascinating in itself.

The film will be followed by a Skype interview with its director.

“Imaginary Feasts” is the riveting story of prisoners of war who got together and talked about their favourite dinners, and shared recipes of those foods. Some of these were written down and smuggled out of their prisons and can be found today.

The stories of how starving people managed to dream about their past lives is amazing to listen to.

Why We Do It!

19 Apr

I thought it might be interesting to post my introduction on a blog to begin a conversation because that is what this Festival is all about.

A long-time donor Patron of the Festival withdrew his support this year because he feels uncomfortable that amongst the Festival’s diverse and comprehensive line up we include films that can be viewed as critical of Israel.
“Israel is the object of much bias in the media, at the U.N., at universities etc.”
He feels that because we live here, in Canada, in comfort, we do not have the right to criticize Israel; our lives are not at risk.
The Toronto Jewish Film Festival has a sterling reputation around the world of over 100 Jewish film festivals.
We are envied because we are unaffiliated and independently funded by people like you, and therefore have the freedom to screen films that others, attached to synagogues, JCC’s and other political or religious organizations may not be able to.
This is a mixed blessing—on the one hand, we have curatorial freedom; on the other hand, it is an awesome responsibility that we take very seriously.
TJFF presents stories of Jewish life as it is lived around the world. Israeli filmmakers, who have the right to criticize Israel, as it is their own existence and experience they are reflecting on, make the Israeli films we present. It is precisely because we live here in relative comfort that we need to listen to ALL of their voices.
We invite the filmmakers to attend in person or via Skype for post film Q & A sessions, so that you have the opportunity to converse and challenge them. We don’t try to change your mind—just to listen to alternative voices.
Most importantly though, in planning each Festival, we program according to what is available to be screened in any given year…
This year, to commemorate Israeli Memorial and Independence Days, we have new films about Martin Buber, Ze’ev Jabotinsky, Yitzhak Rabin and Albert Einstein (a founder of Hebrew University). As well,Hagiga, a two part film about the history of Israeli cinema will have its North American premiere at the Festival.
About one third of our program is Israeli, a reflection of both our devotion and the excellence of the Israeli film industry, and we are proud of the scope of ideas and subjects that will be presented.
We agonize over some selections. I remember a film Paying for Justice about the Claims Conference, an organization entrusted with many millions of dollars to be distributed among Holocaust survivors. One of the children of a survivor uncovered massive fraud while survivors were living and dying in poverty.
We were told that it would be disturbing to survivors if we showed the film, it would embarrass the community, “airing our dirty laundry in public”. We were threatened with a lawsuit but we screened the film because we felt it was a story that deserved consideration. As it turned out, a couple of years later, charges were brought against some members of the Claims Conference, which resulted in fines and jail terms for the guilty.
According to our mandate, the Festival serves as “a mirror of and a window to the Jewish experience around the world”.
It isn’t always easy; we sometimes don’t like what we see; it is our job and we do it with pride.

One Response:

“Dear Helen:
Suanne and I just looked through the program to choose films for us. It all looks great.
Regarding your welcome message, the quality of the festival, to us, has been the wide range and lack of political censorship like the donor who withdrew expressed to you. It seems that there are attempts to hijack cultural events by those with an ideology along the lines of the current Israeli government, without realizing that freedom still reigns within Israel.
I often tell friends and family that Israel has a better democracy than many Jews here think, and that Israelis have freedom of expression that some Jews here think shouldn’t be allowed. As I am very well acquainted with Israel, including internal debates, I believe that those like your ex-donor need a bit of education about Israel, which seems sorely lacking. Presumably your donor will no longer attend, which is a shame.
Bravo for this festival and the choices for the program. “This is 2016” and your program reflects it. Thanks for not caving in.

Allan Fox”

It’s always nice to hear your comments. Please feel free to enter into the discussion.

You can send your comments to:

TJFF@TJFF.ca or Helenz@tjff.ca