Jewish Women Nurturing Jewish Film

This fall, the Washington D.C. Jewish Community Center will present its 12th annual Jewish Film Festival. Which, as usual, will be run by women.

In fact, women run most of the 60-plus Jewish film festivals that take place every year all around the world, said Deborah Kaufman, who in 1981 founded the very first such festival, in San Francisco.

But why women?

One reason is sexism. According to filmmaker Aviva Kempner, best known for her award-winning 1999 film The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg, the Jewish establishment views cultural activities as a low-priority item. Running Jewish film festivals has therefore become the women’s domain.

Which they probably do better than men, anyway. “When you run a festival,” said Kempner, who was also one of the D.C, festival’s founders, “you are a good programmer, a good host, a nurturer. You nurture the audience and the filmmakers. Women are used to juggling and nurturing.”

As for actual film production in general, it is a well-known fact that women are vastly underrepresented. The D.C. festival especially seeks out films made by women. Still, of last year’s 45 films, only 16 were by women.

One was Chronicle of Love (Tzipi Trope, Israel, 1998), a powerful story about domestic violence in Israel.

“To show this film we felt we had to have a daytime screening, and include a social worker as part of the program. Because a woman in that situation could come safely during the day. She could find someone to talk with. For us, showing this film had special meaning and purpose,” said Jennifer Katz, who handles the festival publicity and programming.

More than anything, running a festival and making films is about storytelling, said festival director Miriam Morsel Nathan. “Men tell stories, too. But women have traditionally been the keepers of stories, tradition and culture.”