We're incredibly proud that AJFF attracts some of the most talented, passionate people. We rely heavily on this village to make AJFF what it is, and we're going to introduce you to some of the people who make up that village. From our staff, to our volunteers, or even to members of our audience, there's a huge group of people that make AJFF a world-class cultural event.
This month, we're putting the spotlight on the founding director of Atlanta Jewish Film Festival and current Community Engagement Co-Chair, Judy Marx.
A Little Bit About Judy
In March 2015, Judy Marx was named the first Executive Director of Interfaith Community Initatives, Inc. (ICI). In this position, she oversees ICI’s many programs, including World Pilgrims™, Atlanta Interfaith Leaders Forum, and Immersion Experiences, as well as represents interfaith efforts at community events and works with faith leadership across the city. She has remained involved in the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival, co-chairing the Film Evaluation Committee for two years and currently co-chairing the festival’s Community Engagement Committee.
How did you come to be involved with AJFF?
When the AJC Atlanta Chapter board and staff leadership gave its approval of the film festival project, I was Chapter’s Assistant Director assigned to be the festival’s staff person.
What is the most interesting challenge, in improving AJFF, that you get to help with?
Despite the mission of using film to “build bridges of understanding,” AJFF’s audience still hovers around only 20% from outside of the Jewish community – even with intensified outreach efforts. But I’ve found this problem to be true for all the ethnic/religious-based festivals. NBAF and the Bronze Lens Festival only attract a small percentage of non-African Americans, and the Latin American and Indian Film Festivals hosted by the High Museum generally only reach their own communities. People hesitate to seek out, or they may just by-pass, films or other events not in their cultural comfort zone.
The current Community Engagement effort is working on changing this dynamic. Through intentionally engaging people from a wide variety of Atlanta’s diverse ethnic and religious communities, AJFF is developing relationships that will help make the “bridge of understanding” be more than one-way. We seek out film programs beyond AJFF and promote those to our audiences. In addition, we are developing film-based programs throughout the year that will bring AJFF to new communities.
What is your fondest memory from being involved with AJFF?
We closed the second annual AJFF with Trembling Before G-d, the controversial documentary on Orthodox and Hasidic Jews who are gay and lesbian and must reconcile their own religious faith with the Bible's prohibitions against homosexuality. The screening at Woodruff Arts Center’s Rich Auditorium was sold-out. The audience was incredibly diverse, with many who were not at all “friendly” to the LGBTQ cause. Our guests were two women featured in the movie who had requested that the filmmaker not show their faces for fear of embarrassing their families. Coming to AJFF was their first public appearance as a couple. Everyone was nervous: How would the “not-so-friendly” people react? When the film ended and the lights came up, a spotlight shone on the women, and without a second’s hesitation the audience, as a whole, gave them a standing ovation. The Q&A was challenging yet respectful and went on until the building’s security came to close up. That night sealed AJFF’s reputation as a thoughtful, open-minded, and cutting-edge event that works hard to bring our diverse community together.
How has your experience outside of AJFF played into your work with the festival?
Before the festival, I had no film experience, other than being a fairly regular filmgoer….and I don’t even eat popcorn! I was hired by AJC to be a policy wonk and expert on Jewish educational programming. Once assigned to staff the film festival, I had to learn everything: from how to find venues that have the appropriate equipment for the formats needed to what an “aspect-ratio” is (there’s a famous story about that), from working with distribution companies to working with filmmakers and performers.
Fortunately I was able surround myself and the AJFF volunteer committees with great, film-smart people: Matthew Bernstein at Emory taught me what to look for in a film; Brian Newman (then the director of the Atlanta Film Festival) taught me about working with commercial theaters and what kind of volunteer structure we would need; Greg Torre and Michael Coles (then the director and chair of the Georgia Film and Video Office) taught me about the film business in Atlanta; and Candy Berman, the event planning consultant for the first four years, taught me how to put together a world-class event.
And then, of course, before the 5th annual AJFF, I hired Kenny Blank who taught me everything else about film and film festivals that anyone would ever need.
What is the most rewarding aspect of being involved with AJFF?
Since the beginning, AJFF never shied away from a film that would politically, religiously or otherwise be challenging to the Jewish community….if it was a good film. In the early years, I was often the “decider” when it came to controversial topics or approaches. A that film met our high expectations in terms of its quality and met our standards for accuracy and honesty (we refused anything we considered propaganda, no matter what “side” it was on) was considered solely on its merits, no matter how uncomfortable we were watching it or how difficult the discussion was/would be around a public screening. I am proud that I set the tone for embracing controversy, no matter how nervous it made me.
How do you describe AJFF to those who've never experienced it?
I guess the best way to describe AJFF to someone who’s never been is one of the original taglines, “More than just another night at the movies.” Yes, the films themselves are the center of the AJFF experience, but what makes the festival special is the sense of community that it creates. There is an energy at each screening, an excitement for the film, for the Q &A, and for the discussion that happens in the lobby after the program is over. The conversations about the films, often between complete strangers, that really changes festival-goers from a random audience to a community.
Thank you to Judy for her time this month. AJFF has long benefitted from her support and efforts over the years and hopefully, many more to come. Stay tuned to see who we profile next month.