Interview: Olivia Antsis, Director – Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival

Screen Shot 2014-10-28 at 9.14.46 PMThe Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival starts on November 1st, and Cinedelphia had a chat with Olivia Antsis, the festival’s director, to talk about the programming for the fest.
Cinedelphia: I was going through the program, and one of the things I like about the festival is that it spans the city, with screenings at many different theaters. Can you speak to the community involvement with the festival?

Olivia Antsis: Traditionally, the festival was centered in the Rittenhouse Square area and Society Hill, but we made the conscious decision a few years ago to spread out the film screenings as much as we could to the different populations of the city. For instance, West Philadelphia has a lot of students, and so in order to diversify and get the word out about the festival, we have festival screenings at International House. And we love being there because having students at the screenings is incredibly positive, and they are always very enthusiastic. The festival has even extended out to the suburbs with screenings now located at the Hiway Theater in Jenkintown and the Bryn Mawr Film institute.
Having the festival screenings spread out is also beneficial because you are not relying on the exact same group of people to attend every film screening in a two week period. It provides more diverse experiences for guests, as each venue brings with it a different atmosphere and different experience. Overall it creates a more vibrant and energetic film festival and makes the festival more accessible to people who do not have the ability to get into the city.
C: Can you talk a little about the shorts that are playing during the festival?

OA: For the past few years we’ve been trying to integrate shorts into our lineup. It’s important because a lot of the shorts are made by first-time filmmakers, or students, and I think showing shorts allow filmmakers to gain exposure and gain a confidence in themselves to continue making films. And we also like it because it’s a totally different aesthetic. The challenge of telling a story in a ten minute film as opposed to a 90 minute film, it takes a different kind of storytelling ability, and it’s interesting to see how one takes a concept and interprets it in a unique way.
We have a shorts program for this festival that features films based on the short stories of Etgar Keret, who is a wonderful writer and one of the most popular writers to come out of Israel right now. Some of the short films are very experimental, and in fact, we have three different shorts that are based on the same short story called, “What Do We Have in Our Pockets?” so we’ll get to see three interpretations of that one story.
We are also really excited because we are screening the documentary that came out this past year called Etgar Keret: What Animal Are You?, that follows his book tour in New York. The film is directed by a friend of his, so it is very personal, and along with the documentary screening, Keret will be in attendance to read aloud some of his written work. There will also be a post-screening interview and reception.

C: How do you pair up the opening shorts with there feature?

OA: Sometimes we get a short that is so amazing we try to find a feature to go with it! It’s rare, but most of the time we have this pool of shorts that we choose from, and we try and select films that match the themes and aesthetics that we are interested in exploring and sharing throughout the festival. There is an art to choosing a shorts lineup in general, but in terms of pairing, we usually find the feature and then find a short that connects on some level. Sometimes the connections are looser, for instance with Famous Nathan’s we are pairing it this year with Wilt Chamberlain’s Bellhop, the connection there being New York history. And also the idea of transformation, with the pairing of The Sturgeon Queens, which is a film about Russ and Daughters’ fish shop transformation over the years, and 70 Hester Street about the synagogue on the Lower East Side going through its own transformation.

C: Women also play a prominent focus in this year’s films, was that conscious, or a result of what is currently out there?

OA: Definitely both! We are seeing more women filmmakers that are making amazing films, but it kind of happened organically. As you are programming, there are all of these connections that you are thinking about and making an effort to present in the final lineup and it’s only later that we see all of the unconscious connections that are also being created simultaneously. So when I look at our lineup this year, I see a very organic transition from one film to the next, and I think ‘Identity’ is what connects these films in one way or another.

Regarding Susan Sontag, made by a female filmmaker, is a film that absolutely touches on identity and Sontag’s influence on a generation of women who were interested in defining that for themselves. I think this year’s festival is one of our most thematic; food, big ideas and heroes, women’s perspectives, and the literally connection as well. Four of our films are based on novels, and Susan Sontag and Etgar Keret who are writers themselves. So basically if you love the liberal arts, we have you covered!
The Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival runs from November 1-16. For more information on this year’s lineup and to purchase tickets to events and screenings, click here.

Author: Ryan Silberstein

Ryan spends his days at a company named one of the best to work for in the Philadelphia area, and his nights as a mysterious caped vigilante saving his city from the disease that is crime watching movies. He lives on a diet consisting of film, comic books, experimental beer, black coffee, and those big metal historical markers around town. Follow him on Twitter and Letterboxd.

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