Paul Risker chats with Judy Ironside, Director of the 16th UK Jewish Film Festival…
The embracing of past and present was undoubtedly one of the highlights of the 16th edition of the UK Jewish Film Festival. Opening with the directorial feature debut of Sophie Lellouche, Paris-Manhattan, the UKJFF welcomed violinist and Artistic Director of The Jewish Music Institute Sophie Solomon, to perform a live musical accompaniment at a special screening of Edward Sloman’s 1925 silent film, His People. “The screening of His People was most certainly added to expand the breadth of the UKJFF and we are always looking at ways to do this. We think it is vital to work with new filmmakers as much as possible, but it is wonderful when a silent film can be such a huge success when live music of such quality is also on the programme.”
For the first time in sixteen years the UK Jewish Film Festival expanded to venues across the country, with Judy overseeing a new kind of expansion in 2012. “We have screened in towns and cities beyond London for many years, and of course we started in Brighton. But we have always sent films on tour after the Festival in London. We felt it was important this year to see the Festival as a whole across the UK and this has proved to be a great success. In fact we already have numerous people writing to ask if we will include their town or city in 2013, and we will be looking at all of these requests.”
Interviewing writer-directors, one of the themes or ideas that arises regularly is the idea that cinema is more than just entertainment. The ideological origin of the festival, intent on channelling the voice of filmmakers discussing Jewish themes, embraces this approach to film. At this year’s festival, over seventy films were screened, the festival expanding beyond a celebration of Jewish film, to celebrate the power of the image and its potential. “We believe that film is a hugely powerful art form and one that encompasses the power to transform stories into both fiction and non-fiction films. Whilst the majority of films are highly entertaining, we also want to show films that challenge people’s views and require of them to move out of their comfort zones and consider other ways and ideas – even this sort of film can, of course, prove to be entertaining! UKJFF has a unique opportunity to bring films that would not otherwise be screened in the UK, and with these films we can offer our audiences the chance to see the topics and Jewish themes that are being used by filmmakers across the world, and thereby expand their understanding of Jewish cultures worldwide.”
The UKJFF exploits cinema as a cultural tool, a window if you like through which audiences and filmmakers alike can explore religion and culture. With an opportunity to speak with Judy, I sought to discover what for her makes cinema such a powerful tool for broadening our horizons in comparison to the written word. “We believe that film is very accessible to such a wide and diverse audience. Cinema is a shared experience, and the UKJFF can even go beyond to provide cinema plus, which frequently offers the chance to meet the filmmakers, producers and actors, and thereby share the experience in a very personal sense. Whereas, for the most part the written word is a more solitary experience – film opens up huge vistas and explores enormous issues in a comparatively short space of time, and to a large audience who can then discuss and debate their reactions and impressions.”
Jewish Film UK works to promote Jewish cinema beyond the festival, organising events and screenings throughout the year. Following the success of the 16th edition of the festival, their enthusiasm to champion Jewish cinema during the next twelve months represents an exciting time for everyone involved with Jewish Film UK. “We are hugely encouraged by the public response to the 16th UKJFF, and there are already many people waiting for us to bring back some of the most popular films. However, we now operate year round and there are many previews and premieres waiting to be screened in the early part of 2013. We very much hope that everyone has added their name to our database so that they can receive news of all the events throughout the year. We have also launched a Membership Scheme, and those who join will be invited to special screenings and events that are just for Members – so we very much hope that this Scheme will grow and grow and that our audiences will support and acknowledge our work and get the benefits as well.”
Inevitably nearing the end of the calendar year, this will be a moment when Judy will assess the success of Jewish Film UK, whilst looking ahead to the challenges to be encountered in 2013. “This has been such a strong year for UKJFF and the feedback has been so positive. But this does not mean that we will consider sitting back and relaxing our energy and creative thinking – this has driven us to go forwards into 2013 with new energy and to listen, as always, to our audiences and bring the best of international films with Jewish themes.” There appears to be a definite focus going forward for Jewish Film UK. Judy added, “We are also increasing our work with partner organisations and we hope to be working more with young people to introduce them to the power of film, and extend their ideas and creative responses to the world around them.”
Thanks to Judy Ironside for taking the time for this interview.
Paul Risker is a freelance writer and contributor to Flickering Myth, Scream The Horror Magazine and The London Film Review.