Film Festival Breaks Records in First Virtual Outing

By Julie Sherman

This year’s virtual presentation of the Edward S. Finkelstein Harrisburg Jewish Film Festival proved a great success, with more than 1000 people registered at our website and most of the films viewed in more than 500 households in Harrisburg and around the country throughout each 24-hour screening day. 

Our Zoom “virtual water cooler” events were nicely attended, with audience members taking the opportunity both to share their opinions of the films with one another, and to hear from filmmakers who joined us to talk about their pictures. 

The virtual format made guest appearances much easier and more fluid.  For Picture of His Life, we were treated to a surprise visit from co-director Yonatan Nir, who joined us on Zoom from Israel (at 2:00 in the morning!), as well as the film’s LA-based composer, Chris Gubisch.  The last-minute addition to our guest list of screenwriter David Himmelstein, who joined us to talk about My Name is Sara, made for one of the most memorable moments of the Festival series:  the film’s sponsor, Linda Schwab, brought David nearly to tears as she shared her appreciation for his story and screenplay, which in ways mirrored her own WWII experience in hiding. 

Israeli writer-director Alon Gur Arye also joined us in the wee hours of the morning, Israel-time, to share behind-the-scenes anecdotes from the making of his ambitious spoof, Mossad!  Our guest list was rounded out with a visit, on the last night of the Festival, with Tod Lending, director of our final offering this season, Saul & Ruby: To Life!

While every effort was made to streamline the online viewing experience for our patrons throughout the Festival, there still remained – much to the Festival committee’s regret – much that was counter-intuitive and far from user-friendly when it came to accessing the films.  We hope that many of you made use of our “email helpline” and the services of committee member and Senior Tech Tutor Barry Gordon to make it a bit easier.  With no idea what next year will bring – a proper Festival at Midtown Cinema, a virtual Festival such as we’ve just finished, or some hybrid in between – one of our near-term goals, besides beginning the process of choosing another season of memorable Jewish and Israeli cinema for you to enjoy, will be to improve this aspect of any virtual Festival experience. 

Our thanks to all of you who took part in the 26th annual Film Festival outing, and to those of you who expressed so much appreciation that we went forward, despite the strange and difficult times we are living through.   If you have not completed your end-of-Festival survey, sent to you on July 31, it is not too late to do so (just check your Old Mail), – your input will be of great value to us.

See you, if not at the movies, then somewhere, sometime, soon.  Stay well!