Annual film festival highlights Jewish culture

The Greater Phoenix Jewish Film Festival plans to feature a blend of foreign and native films to the Valley from Feb. 10 to Feb. 24. While the festival pertains to Jewish culture, a wide variety of themes and elements are sure to bring thought and emotion to its diverse audience.

Screenings will be held at Harkins Camelview 5, Harkins Chandler Crossroads and Harkins Arrowhead 18. A complete schedule of events and prices can be found at Greater Phoenix Jewish Film Festival's website.

The festival has significantly grown since its conception 17 years ago, when Phyllis and Sheldon Pierson of Scottsdale had the idea of starting a Jewish film festival in the Valley.

Another couple, Gloria and Sidney Israel of Sun Lakes also established a film festival in 2004. The first festival was composed of four films, one of which was made by Gloria Israel’s cousin, Hank Greenberg. Five years later, both couples combined their festivals to create what is now known as the Greater Phoenix Jewish Film Festival.

A great deal of work during the year prior to the event is put into each year’s film festival to ensure satisfaction for attendees. Two groups of volunteers located in Scottsdale and Chandler meet on a weekly basis from April to September. The groups are involved in the process of selecting films to be shown.

Adrian Bendick, assistant executive director of the Greater Phoenix Jewish Film Festival, noted that the two groups assess the films from storytelling and filmmaking perspectives. This year’s festival in particular is sure to delight with 11 movies from countries such as France and Poland.

Overall, The Greater Phoenix Jewish Film Festival’s focus on the Jewish culture should not discourage Valley residents from attending.

“We have a fantastic lineup of films,” Bendick said. “All of the themes are universal to their core. We are also reaching out to the gay and lesbian community as well this year with ‘Melting Away.’ I have been told by non-Jewish patrons that they enjoy the films because they either learn something new from them or because the films deal with subjects that are relatable to their personal lives.”

Films are also accompanied by lectures presented by guest speakers. A committee of board members is designated in order to get in touch with social and religious experts. Attendees will be able to listen to people such as Roberta Grossman, a filmmaker who has contributed her talents to documentaries and television, Paul Wieser, who has served on the board of Phoenix Holocaust Survivors’ Association for 15 years and Bill Goodykoontz, a seasoned film critic for The Arizona Republic.


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