No rest for the weary! The 24th annual Washington Jewish Film Festival just wrapped this past weekend, but planning for next year’s festival is already under way.
Ilya Tovbis, the festival director, said the process never really stops.
“A lot of what I do throughout the year, from a programmatic standpoint, is I’m in constant contact with filmmakers, distributors, producers, [to see] what’s going on with their next project. Sometimes we’ll go, ‘Send some works in progress,’ scripts, occasionally, just to get a sense of what’s coming. And also, one of the parts of my job that I love and is a great privilege is I get to travel to some other major festivals. In May I’ll be going to Cannes, in November to Haifa in Israel. And so some of the conversations you have there are certainly pointed to the next year and some are two, three years away. I mean, there’s some we’re tracking that may not come out until 2017.”
This year’s slate of 64 films came from all over the world, and the interest was so great in discussing them that the festival partnered with the Library of Congress for a series of noon-time talks with directors about their films.
Tovbis said it was a natural fit and expansion to link the festival’s filmmakers and viewers in settings beyond just the screenings and subsequent Q-and-A sessions. “There’s always so much conversation that’s not had. And again, these are the people who can speak at the highest level, with a great amount of research, intelligence, knowledge, and so it only made sense to always find additional ways” to further those conversations.
“What I hear from our filmmakers … is [that] our audiences are much more developed in terms of their historical knowledge, contextualization. A lot of what we show are documentaries, where they’re accessible to the general public, and you don’t need a Ph.D. in order to understand them. But there are certainly topics that are, y’know, whether they’re about Israel or Palestine or Baharian Jews … I think our audiences are very well versed, incredibly intelligent.”
For upcoming years, Tovbis expects to continue offering the diverse slate of films that festival attendees have increasingly come to expect.
“I really see us a bringing the best of international cinema we can possibly get to D.C., with a Jewish experience angle. … We considered over a 1,000 films to get to the 64 selections this year. And the idea first and foremost is quality. From a pure filmmaking basis. We’re certainly interested in the Jewish story it tells, but if it doesn’t qualify as a well-told story, we have enough other selections that we can choose from. I want it to really be the highest level it can possibly be,” Tovbis said.