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Confessions of a Jewish Film Festival Junkie

Rutgers University’s Allen and Joan Bildner Center for the Study of Jewish Life celebrated 20 years of their Jewish Film Festival earlier this month. Eighteen films (19 if you count the nine-minute short animated film that was served as a double feature with one offering) were shown at three venues, including 32 screenings in a 15-day period.

I saw all but one of the films.

I’ve seen so many films in the last two weeks that the music from the Festival trailer reel winds through my head at night keeping me awake. And my brain plays the trailer images on an endless loop. Definitely the sign of a film festival junkie.

Some would consider my extreme viewing habit to be excessive. A few years ago I would have said that too. Who can see so many movies? Who has the time? Who can sit through so many films in such a concentrated period of time? Who would find all those movies interesting?

I’ve lived in the Rutgers area for many years. The festival fliers sent to me were immediately deposited in the trash. Not interested. Not one bit. Not at all.

Then I found myself in the area of where some films were shown at the 2016 festival. On a whim, I bought a ticket to a film that would be starting about 10 minutes from the time I got my ticket. The movie was the Israeli film, “Fire Birds,” which turned out to be one of the best movies I’d ever seen—in the theater or on TV or cable. It was that good. Grabbing a festival brochure on my way out, I kicked myself for not looking into the series earlier. There were plenty of movies that looked incredibly interesting. I purchased a ticket to another film as I left the theater. The ticket was to (what I thought was) the only remaining film in the series that I was interested in. A few days later, a friend asked if I was interested in a pair of tickets to see “On the Map,” a film about Israel and basketball. My friend had a scheduling conflict and didn’t want the tickets to go to waste. I said I’d take them, and found another friend to go with me. I am not a fan of basketball, so I had no expectations of enjoying the film. I only went to avoid wasting a ticket. Even with such low expectations, I was still surprised how much I enjoyed that movie. A valuable lesson was learned. Lesson 1: Don’t judge a film by the description in the brochure. Since that time, I have been disappointed by many films I had been looking forward to and thrilled with ones that I thought I would not like.

With excitement, I grabbed the 2017 brochure the minute it arrived. Dramas, comedies, documentaries! How to choose? Impulsively, I purchased tickets to six films of the 15 that were being shown. In the middle of the series, I bought a seventh ticket. An obsession was born. Lesson 2: My movie tastes do not seem to match those of other people. The movies voted by audiences as festival favorites were not the ones I would have picked.

I started to suspect I had an obsession as I ran to the mailbox and checked the internet daily the month before the start of the 2018 film festival. Having trouble selecting films, I purchased tickets to 10 of the 15 film selections. Verification of Lesson 1 and addendum: Don’t judge a film by the description; go by your gut hunch about the topic.

If I was not sure about my film infatuation before, I convinced myself when I ordered tickets to 14 films before the 2019 festival started. I had my doubts about going to the offerings in Princeton, but that was the only place I could see a film I wanted to see. The Princeton Garden Theater was quaint and far more comfortable than the generic New Brunswick multiplex, but I was hesitant about returning when Princeton was living up to its reputation for being a difficult place to park your car. Nonetheless, I decided to try the theater again and scraped my loose change together to purchase a ticket for a documentary the next day. I’m glad I had a chance to sample the venue, but would have to admit that neither film I saw there would have made my “most favorite film list.”

A few days later, I attended an afternoon showing of a film and realized that there were tickets available for a film I had previously chosen not to see. Making a U-turn at the exit door, I bought a ticket and returned to the theater. I should have adhered to Lesson 1: That movie was absolutely fantastic! Not one from the “good mood” movie genre, but a movie that I will forever remember: a drama that I’d highly recommend – “Those Who Remained.”

During the course of the 2019 film festival I saw all the movie offerings except one (there was a conflict the only time that film was offered, and I had seen that film at a special screening earlier. I had the chance to speak with other movie goers and compare notes about films we’d seen. I’ve met so many interesting people and heard interesting discussions featuring actors, directors and others affiliated with the films shown. I’ve learned never to trust my judgment regarding film choice picks. I’m much better off just seeing all the films and figuring out if I like the movie after I’ve seen it, rather than before.

So now I am counting down the days before the 2020 Rutgers Jewish Film Festival. I can’t wait to see the selection of dramas, comedies, documentaries and who knows what other film types. All I know is that next year there will be a great selection of Jewish-themed films from across the globe that I would never have the chance to see anywhere else.

And maybe I’ll have the chance to sit next to you and we can discuss the films we’ve seen.

By a Middlesex County Mom 

Who Wishes to RemainNameless 

 

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