Atlantic Jewish Film Festival a success despite small Jewish community in Halifax

Halifax celebrates Jewish culture at the second annual Atlantic Jewish Film Festival.

Festival attendees get ready to watch "GeTT: THE TRIAL OF VIVIANE AMSA", a film about an Israeli woman who cannot get a divorce.
Festival attendees get ready to watch “GeTT: THE TRIAL OF VIVIANE AMSA,” a film about an Israeli woman who cannot get a divorce.   Guillaume Lapointe-Gagner

The Atlantic Jewish Film Festival (AJFF) isn’t just a festival for the Jewish community; it’s a festival for everyone. That’s the message the organizers of the festival wanted to send, and they largely succeeded. They were able to get a large turnout for the festival’s second annual run this past weekend, selling out four of the six films that were shown.

Lynn Rotin, chair of the AJFF Committee, said there are always risks when it comes to running a small film festival.

“We had no idea what we were doing last year. None,” she said.

But this year is different. Rotin said this year has been a lot easier, and their success has been, in large part, due to the Halifax population’s willingness to support Jewish culture.

John Goldberg, executive director of the Atlantic Jewish Council said there are about 1,500 people in Halifax that belong to the Jewish community.

“You wouldn’t be able to run this if you were just depending on the Jews, so we have to make it interesting and palatable to the entire community at large,” Goldberg said.

That can tricky for the AJFF marketing team. Peggy Walt, a volunteer that manages publicity for the festival, said some people were confused as to whom a Jewish Festival was meant for.

“Does it mean they have to be Jewish to go or to get it? Is it going to be political films or is it going to be about all that stuff that’s going on in the Middle East?,” Walt said. “What we try to focus on is that there’s something for everybody in the festival, and that seems to work.”

Walt said the point of showcasing Jewish movies is to create a dialogue.

“There’s a lot of polarized views about everything going on in the world today, and this is sort of a way to get a different take on some of the issues,” she said.

Kathy Zilbert, a member of the Jewish community in Halifax, said there’s merit in celebrating Jewish culture with people outside of the community.

“I think it’s good for the Jewish community and for the community at large to expose them to things they might not necessarily see otherwise,” Zilbert said. “I see it as a positive on many levels.”

Other Jewish community members mirrored that opinion. Many expressed their pleasure with the way the festival brought people together.

“It’s good for people. It’s good for celebration,” said Ynna Sibiryaekov, an attendee of the AJFF gala party on Saturday night.

The films screened at the festival were chosen for their ties to Jewish culture and their ability to draw a crowd. The films were international – three American films were shown along with French, Polish, and Hungarian ones.

“We’re trying to get something that’s fresh and new and maybe just premiered at another film festival last year or last season that we can bring here,” said Walt. “This is probably one of the few places that you’re going to get to see these films.”

When asked if the festival will run again next year, Lynn Rotin said she was absolutely sure of it. She said the response was too good to give up.

“It’s important to keep up the momentum,” she said.

Have a story idea? Let us know