By Howard Pousner
In a time of cultural retrenchment because of the economy, the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival will expand to 20 days and add a fourth theater in 2011. The growth comes after the 10th edition of the city’s largest film festival drew a record 20,000 moviegoers over 12 days in January.
“The reason for this expansion is not just about more, but also improving the quality of the experience of our patrons,” AJFF executive director Kenny Blank said in an exclusive interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We threatened to become in some ways victims of our own success.”
Blank was referring to the fact that nearly 60 percent of the festival’s 76 screenings in January sold out, in some cases weeks in advance, and audiences for all showings averaged 83 percent of capacity. Lines often formed as much as an hour before showtimes and even caused a few tense exchanges between moviegoers jostling for the best seats.
“We’ve been blessed with incredible excitement about the festival, wonderful turnouts,” Blank said. “But at some point, if you don’t rise to meet the demand of your audience and grow your capacity, you start to turn away some people and we don’t want to do that.”
In addition to its three established theaters — Regal Cinemas Atlantic Station 16 in Midtown, Lefont Sandy Springs and Regal’s Medlock Crossing Stadium 18 in Johns Creek — the AJFF is adding an east Cobb venue, Georgia Theatre Co.’s Merchants Walk 12 in Marietta.
The fest also is moving from January to February next year to give organizers more time after the holidays to plot and promote the expanded event.
The AJFF will add more repeat screenings of popular titles in 2011 but also expects to add more new titles. This year’s festival featured 41 narrative films and documentaries and two programs of shorts.
Blank said enough quality Jewish-related films are available to grow the offerings. Every year, the AJFF receives 400 to 500 new entries that festival panelists typically narrow to 80 finalists. The final cut to about 50 titles has eliminated “outstanding” choices in the past, Blank said.
The AJFF is the second largest Jewish film fest in the United States, after the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, which will celebrate its 30th anniversary this summer.
Having broadened the festival well beyond Jewish audiences in recent years, Blank said he wants to expand opportunities for audiences to connect with filmmakers beyond screening talks and to give visiting directors a greater chance to connect with one another and with Atlanta’s budding film industry.