The Miami Jewish Film Festival makes its annual return today through April 29 with a record-breaking 145 films, screening both in person and virtually as a result of the pandemic.
The festival, now in its 24th edition, is among the largest Jewish film festivals in the world. It has traditionally taken place in January but due to these unprecedented times, it was moved to April.
Daniel Vasquez is one of the MJFF coordinators. He recalls the pandemic’s effect on the art world as one of the main reasons for moving the dates.
“There was a lot of uncertainty,” he said. “At the beginning of the pandemic we chose to reschedule our festival to April not knowing what it would look like,” he said. “It was just as a precaution, just to give us some more time. [The pandemic] did affect everyone working in the cultural arts and we were no exception.”
The festival will screen 100 feature films, including eight world premieres, over 20 American premiers and 45 short films. This year, there are 39 first-time feature filmmakers that represent 25 countries as well as an unprecedented 47 films directed by women.
In order to make the festival as widely available as possible, they’ve provided its entire program available for free. Their live events will take place through drive-in and outdoor settings, while their virtual screenings will be geo-locked to either the state of Florida or the United States and will be available for viewing on April 15 through Eventive.
The drive-in experience will take place at the Carpool Cinema in Wynwood. The closing ceremony will take place at the North Beach Bandshell’s open-air amphitheater in Miami Beach. It will screen Howie Mandel: But, Enough About Me, a moving, funny and uncensored profile of the versatile showman Howie Mandel that was produced during the pandemic.
Going on-screen for the first time in Florida is the film I Am Here, from director Jordy Sank. Through this film, Sank and film producer Gabriela Blumberg had the vision to create a Holocaust documentary that they wished they had while learning about it and that they hope future generations will learn from.
The film follows Holocaust survivor Ella Blumenthal, as she tells the stories of her survival and lives her life with positivity at the forefront of everything she does despite those experiences.
“We’re very excited to be sharing our film at the Miami Jewish Film Festival,” said Blumberg. “It’s been quite a new experience for us. With film festivals usually, you can go in person as a filmmaker and interact with the audience so this is quite a new thing having it virtual but it has been quite exciting.”
Sank said that the idea behind the documentary came after meeting Ella Blumenthal at Sabbath Dinner one year, not knowing she was a Holocaust survivor and hearing her tell the stories of surviving gas chambers, concentration camps and having everyone at the table in tears and moments later she was playing with kids and singing.
Sank couldn’t believe that a woman who had lived through one of the darkest periods in history could have such a zest for life.
“We want to tell her life story, and it’s not only the story of surviving the Holocaust but also a testament to the unbelievable character and her positive outlook on life,” said Sank. “It can really inspire all of us today on how to live a life with joy and to overcome our own personal traumas.”
Both Sank and Blumberg are excited for new audiences to see the documentary and meet Ella firsthand. The film I Am Here will be screened online exclusively for Florida audiences.
In an effort to deepen its mission to be the launchpad for the best Jewish and Israeli cinema in the world, the Miami Jewish Film Festival is introducing a number of unique programs and initiatives this year.
Their Breaking Barriers/Building Bridges program is dedicated to presenting stories that align with the power that exists in the connection between the Black and Jewish communities in a time of rising racism and antisemitism. The festival is also introducing its new Headliners program that will spotlight acclaimed standouts and selected premieres from festivals around the world and a section dedicated to LGBTQ+ cinema.
In the future, the team behind the festival is hoping that they make a return to theaters next year, but that they are exploring the future of virtual programing, Vasquez said.
“We do imagine that there’s always going to be a hybrid component that will be a part of the festival moving forward,” he said. “Not every film will be virtual, but a selection would be. These are just ideas that our team has been exploring for the future of virtual programming, but we’re excited.”
For more information on the film festival and the films being screened, visit the Miami Jewish Film Festival’s website at https://miamijewishfilmfestival.org/