In only his second year as the San Diego Jewish Film Festival’s Executive Director, Craig Prater has already made a large impact on the premier event in town. This year is the festival’s 25th, a milestone for any film festival, but especially, he says, for a genre-specific one like ours. The festival has grown leaps and bounds over the years, and even in the year between the 24th and 25th annual event has seen some major growth: more films, more screenings and more screens means there’s no excuse for missing the festival this month.
A total of 48 feature films and documentaries from all genres will be on display February 5-15, along with 50 short films as part of the Joyce Forum on February 9. Locations in Carlsbad, La Jolla, San Marcos and Clairemont will showcase world-class theater for all ages. LCHAIM spoke with Prater last month about the planning process and what audiences can expect this year.
LCHAIM: Wow! How does it feel to be here for your second year as the film festival’s executive director? Is it easier?
Craig Prater: I don’t know that it has become easier because we are bigger this year. We have more films, more screens, and more time slots; so that in itself is more challenging, but it’s exactly what we wanted.
It’s really exciting to be a part of the 25th year of the film fest here, because that is a big accomplishment for a film festival, and they have obviously been doing something right for 24 years or they wouldn’t still be here, so credit goes to all those people that have paved the way and made it possible for the festival to exist this long.
LCHAIM: When did you start planning for the 25th anniversary?
CP: People can verify that even last year, when I first started, we were already talking about the 25th anniversary, so we spent about 2-3 weeks wrapping things up for 2014, and then it was full speed ahead for the 25th anniversary planning. Between the committee members, and myself about 200-300 films total are screened before we narrow down the decision to the films you see on our lineup today.
LCHAIM: What do you have planned to commemorate this milestone?
CP: Well, a larger quantity of films in general, and not only more films, but more screenings in different locations. We have an extra screen in the North County area, and though last year we had just 2 or 3 films being screened at the Garfield here at the JCC, this year we will have 25.
Also, something I discovered by accident this year, is something very special. Down through the years, audience favorites at this film festival happen to be a collection of four films that went on to win top awards worldwide or are considered to this day to be four of the top international film festival films. So to commemorate ad honor the 25th anniversary, we have brought those four classic films back to be screened as part of the anniversary celebration.
To think that it was our audience, in some cases, 20 some-odd years ago, saying “these were our favorite films,” and they went on to great acclaim, is just fantastic.
The films, “Amy and Jaguar,” “Gloomy Sunday,” “Nowhere in Africa,” and “All My Loved Ones” will be screened only one time during the film festival, and in different locations, but we expect those to be well attended, regardless.
LCHAIM: Any other special events planned?
CP: Well, we have a double feature, with “The Israeli Code,” and “Advanced Style,” both of which are films dealing with pop culture and fashion, and in between these screenings we will host a fashion show by a local clothing store that features several Israeli designers. So, for the price of one ticket, audiences get 2 screenings and a fashion show! Also very exciting for that event is that the man featured in “Advanced Style,” Ari Seth Cohen, happens to be a local guy, and he will be here promoting his film. In the fashion show, the models will be local people that everyone in attendance will likely know, so it will be very fun.
LCHAIM: The festival has always celebrated short films. How will that tradition continue and grow this year?
CP: Last year, we had three programs of short films as part of the Joyce Forum, and this year, we have 10 programs, so we have a total of 50 short films, expanding that program substantially. Then, the very next morning, we will have a program called “Breakfast with Joyce,” which will just be a delight. You can come and have bagels and coffee with the founder of the film festival and the creator of the Joyce Forum and then attend the awards ceremony to announce the top short films from the day before.
LCHAIM: What are your favorites this year?
CP: Topping the list for me this year, of about four or five, is “Run Boy Run,” based on a true story. It is rough to watch going through and you think, enough already, but if you just sit tight, you will see that this film is truly inspiring.
Then of course, one of our anniversary films, “Gloomy Sunday” is one of my number one films of all time, period.
I am also really partial to our closing film, “Little White Lie,” based on a true story, and the director, Lacey Schwartz will be here for that one. It’s about a girl who grew up in a Jewish traditional home, but something wasn’t right, and she finds out some things about her mother’s past that make her question her upbringing. I think as the audience watches this film, they will really resonate with the story, and it will be quite moving to see the director and her mother at the screening afterward.
LCHAIM: Comparative to other film fests you have worked on, how is this one different, and how has your past shaped you in your approach here?
CP: When you reach a certain age and you have done this for a while, and in a lot of different countries and for film festivals of any size, I like to tell people that I have made all the mistakes I can make. You name it; I’ve done it when it comes to mistakes. So, I know naturally what to avoid. The thing that interests me in the film festival here is that it has been around a number of years, so I knew that they were doing something right. There is also a real international trend for film festivals in general to be genre-specific, whether it be a Jewish film festival, an Italian, Latino or gay film festival, genre-specific film festivals are surfacing and holding their own.
So, using my years of experience in some general film festivals, I am able to zero-in on this genre and make something really great happen here.
For tickets and for more information about films, screening times and tickets, visit sdcjc.org/sdjff.