Two West Coast women are responsible for the first Jewish Film Festival to take place in Moscow in recent memory, and of the 30 films shown, 11 were directed by women.
The two, Deborah Kaufman and Janice Plotkin, got the idea for the festival while working to obtain Russian films for the 1988 San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.
The Soviets were interested in reciprocating and requested films like “Fiddler on the Roof!’ “The Ten Commandments” and “Portnoy’s Complaint!’ According to Kaufman, they didn’t have any idea that other Jewish-content films were available.
Plotkin explained that most people in the Soviet Union have little information about Jews and Jewish culture. “Their notion of Jewish life is shtetl nostalgia.”
Close to 50,000 people attended the festival, which was held in late March. The women were even interviewed on “Good Evening Moscow’,’ a widely viewed television talk show. After the show, people everywhere came up to them and identified themselves as Jews or half-Jews.
“Many of the people we met are planning on staying in the USSR,” Plotkin explained. “Many have left. The festival is a catalyst to empower the Jews who plan to stay.”
Kaufman and Plotkin were careful to present movies that didn’t exploit women. “We made a totally conscious effort to go beyond Jewish stereotypes!’ Kaufman explained. “A major purpose was to provide alternative images of Jews.”