21st Toronto Jewish Film Festival | May 1-11, 2014

Artistic Director's Welcome



Each year as we approach our Festival dates, the printed catalogue finally arrives at the office and we stare at it in wonder, thinking about the process that went into its creation.

I am often asked how the Festival is programmed, so here is the story of how we arrive at our programme:

We begin by previewing films that we have read about online. In addition, over the years, we have developed connections with producers, directors and distributors, who are more than happy to inform us about their new productions. All these films are "solicited" by us. We also get "unsolicited" submissions from filmmakers who have heard of our Festival—this is often a source of wonderful surprises. What results is over 500 submissions. I find it hard to believe that there are so many Jewish content films being produced every year.

We begin to review these films in the Fall, after the Toronto International Film Festival and the High Holidays have ended. Submissions are divided up and given to the programmers who meet every two to three weeks. Every film is seen by at least two people. If it gets two "no" votes, it is eliminated. If one of the two votes is a "maybe" or a "yes," then it is watched by a third person. We then create three lists—a "yes", a "maybe" and a "no" list. Our "maybe" list is the longest because we need to see all that's available in a given year before making too many decisions. However the "no" votes provoke the most colourful discussions among the programmers. That is actually the end of the easy part as we create our line-up.

The difficult part arises as we try to maintain a diverse and balanced programme in terms of the countries represented; the number of documentary versus narrative films; as well as the subject matter and film genres. What each of us keeps in mind is that the Festival is not for any single one of us, but for the larger GTA community whose tastes are as diverse as the countries represented.

The animated (although mostly respectful) discussions begin as we constantly ask ourselves, Is this a Jewish film? What are our responsibilites as a film festival? Should we show films that cast an unflattering light on the Jewish community? How irreverent can we be before we alienate the audience? Should we worry about alienating the audience? Is some of the content too offensive (such as violence and graphic images that could be disturbing)? Does the subject matter justify overlooking any production flaws? Is it important that the community see this film?

The schedule is then created, with consideration being given to the location of the individual venues. We are one of the few Toronto film festivals that screen uptown as well as downtown, and we programme accordingly—we come to where you live, and are happy to do it!

In the end, this is a fun job because every Festival is magic!

As we move into our 22nd Year, the Festival welcomes our new Executive Director Debbie Werner. May she be with us for 120 years!

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