By A.Jade Munsie
The Edmonton Jewish Film Festival returns for its 26th season of celebrating thought-provoking films central to Jewish culture, ideals, stories, and history. From May 10 to 18, Edmontonians can join the free festival in a mix of online streaming and in-person events.
“It’s one of the biggest Jewish cultural events that we organize and one of the biggest in Edmonton,” said Susan Schiffman, the Director of Development at the Jewish Federation of Edmonton.
“Every year, beginning in about July, we start watching films. A smaller group of us watch them first, and then we pass them on to the larger group if we like them. We watch anywhere from 50 to 100 films through the course of the year,” said Schiffman.
Out of the many films considered for the festival, this year’s event will showcase 11 films from a variety of genres that represent various countries and narratives, short films and documentaries as a way to engage in new conversations and gain insight into a culture.
“We want to create dialogue. We want to provoke thinking, and we want people to learn something. If they’re Jewish, we want them to learn more about their own culture. If they’re not Jewish, we want them to learn something about our culture. We want people to feel welcome and excited, enthusiastic, engaged,” said Schiffman.
The festival aims to showcase films never-before-shown in Edmonton. However, online streaming has become a challenge to sourcing out new, unseen material.
“In the old days, that meant a film had never played in a theatre. Then when streaming came along, it also meant it wasn’t generally available on Netflix or HBO or Apple TV…Our goal was to introduce people to movies that they might not have seen and might not see. Theoretically, our films are all first-run premieres, and that’s getting harder and harder,” said Schiffman.
Landmark Cinema initially hosted the festival. However, with Covid, things changed, and the festival reinvented itself online.
“We made the festival free of charge, and it was really, really successful. And we got interest from all over–all over the country, the US and then lots of people in Edmonton who hadn’t ever come to the festival before,” said Schiffman.
This year, the festival welcomes back an in-person aspect for those who want to get out and enjoy the event with other movie lovers. Stanley A. Milner library downtown will host two films in person: the historical-fiction work “Neighbours” (May 10) and the documentary “Fiddler’s Journey to the Big Screen” (May 15).
After screenings, select films will have Zoom discussions with filmmakers and actors. The free festival pass includes access to all events.
The festival is organized by the Jewish Federation of Edmonton, with sponsorship from Global Edmonton, Edmonton Community Foundation, and Israel’s Consulate. For full access to all eleven films, online and in-person, the public can register for their free virtual pass and tickets to in-person events on the Jewish Federation of Edmonton website.
COVER PHOTO: A still from Neighbors, one of the films being shown at the festival.