East Bay International Jewish Film Festival – an Interview with Director Riva Gambert

Monsieur & Madame Adelman – opening night film from France.

So you think it’s easy to run a film festival? Well, let us give you some idea of the complexities.

The East Bay International Jewish Film Festival, now in its 24th year (mazeltov!), has been screening movies in order to bring the best films of interest to its communities. We had the opportunity to chat with the Director, Riva Gambert, about its history and challenges, the current offerings, and plans for the future.

Karin & Vic – Riva, tell us a bit about the East Bay International Jewish Film Festival and its mission.

Riva – Our goal is to bring engaging feature films, documentaries, and shorts into our local community to eliminate the need for lengthy travel times for our audience. Our aim is to screen movies that create dialogue, expand understanding, decrease prejudice, and bring people together. This festival is not for Jewish people only.

Karin & Vic – Then why is Jewish in the title of the festival?

Riva – Because either the topic or characters involved in the movie have a Jewish connection. In fact, we have tried to debunk the myth that all these films are religious. Many of our films deal with issues of a universal nature such as the #Me Too Movement.

Karin & Vic – How do you select movies and what are some of the challenges that you face in making the selections?

Riva – We choose the best films from a wide array of genres and countries, not only award winners, in order to appeal to audience tastes and country of origin. In fact, the most difficult category to fill is the family-friendly English language film with no subtitles.

Karin & Vic – How does that restrict your selection criteria?

Riva – We welcome and would love to have patrons of all ages, nationalities, and religions. For the past few years, a majority of our viewers have been Jewish baby boomers.

Although I don’t like to generalize, we’ve found that by and large our viewers don’t wish to see lots of violence or horror movies. Therefore, we post alerts about nudity and graphic violence.

A Fortunate Man – Danish period drama.

Karin & Vic – So how do you go about choosing what to show?

Riva – We have a diverse selection committee representing different nationalities and divergent backgrounds and tastes. After my screening between 100 and 150 selections, each committee member watches a smaller set at home and rates each film. Then we compile their ratings and see if there is a consensus about a film. After those preliminaries, we meet and discuss the films more in depth. For many films we lack consensus of opinion, and advocates and detractors can be animated and express very strong opinions. But ultimately, we are happy that the outcome provides a rich menu of offerings for our viewers. Each year we screen 1-2 films that are appropriate for middle school and high school students, making sure that there is no nudity or vulgarity in them.

Karin & Vic – Can you give an example of a problem that has arisen?

Riva – For example, in some foreign countries, some words or nudity may be acceptable for students, while we in America might not want our own children to see or hear such things. Another issue, especially for comedies is that humor from one country may not transfer well or be understood in the same way here.

Karin & Vic – Can you tell us some of the films that we should be on the lookout for?

Riva – With around 50 scheduled, it’s hard to select a few. Our opening night offering that will have broad appeal is the French comedy Monsieur & Madame Adelman, about a couple’s ups and downs. A Fortunate Man is a strong Danish historical drama of a young Christian man’s coming of age and his love for a Jewish girl. From Hungary, we have a taut mystery-thriller Budapest Noir. And of the several documentaries, Carl Laemmle is one about the founder of Universal Studios in Hollywood. Laemmle saved hundreds of German Jews from Hitler’s grasp by dedicating himself to writing affidavits for them after he was forced out of the studio he built. This year we are screening films from many countries, including Argentina, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Slovakia, and Spain.

Karin & Vic – We know that the Festival has really grown over the years. What are some of the newest developments?

Riva –This year, our wonderful hosts at our primary venue, Cinemark Theaters, have made more screens available to us. We are now able to show more films, and for the most popular among them, on several screens. Also, because of concurrent screenings, family members are able to attend the festival together, but view different films. To keep in touch with our festival-goers, we are also offering around 10 film screenings at other times of the year.

Stan Lee of Marvel Comics

Karin & Vic – What are some of the innovations you hope to make in the future and for the Festival’s 25th anniversary in 2020?

Riva – We hope to do more with local high school and college students. We plan to increase our complimentary student and younger family screenings both during the festival and during school holidays. Also, if all goes well, we will offer one or two talkbacks where audience members can discuss some of the films more in depth.

Karin & Vic – What other information would you like readers to know?

Riva – Movies are free on our second Saturday afternoon. On Saturday, March 9th, we will screen a tribute to recently deceased Marvel Comics superhero creator, Stan Lee. Besides his biography, we will also present Captain America: the First Avenger. We hope that these two freebies will attract families.

The most popular viewing times are late afternoons and early evenings. Those tickets go fast, so people shouldn’t delay buying tickets. Call 925-240-3053 or go to our website at www.eastbayjewishfilm.org And if anyone has questions, suggestions, or wants to volunteer (volunteers see that film at no cost), we may be reached at those same contact points. We love our volunteers, but to join us as a greeter, usher, or ticket taker, you must be able to be on your feet for at least 90 minutes.

Come join us for a cinematic journey, or as our motto states, “See a Film, See the World.”

Karin & Vic – Thanks for joining us, Riva. We look forward to the festival and hope that readers will attend as well.

East Bay International Jewish Film Festival:

March 2 –10, 2019 at Century 16 Theatres, Pleasant Hill
February 28 & March 3, 2019 at Vine Cinema and Ale House, Livermore

About the Author

Victor CordellVictor Cordell publishes theater and opera reviews on www.forallevents.com and www.berkshirefinearts.com. Having lived in New York, London, Hongkong, Sydney, Washington DC, Houston, Monterey, and elsewhere, he has enjoyed performing arts of many ilks world wide. His service involvement has been on the boards of directors of three small opera companies (Monterey, San Francisco Lyric, and Island City) and a theater company (Cutting Ball). He is a member of San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle and American Theatre Critics Association as well as being a Theatre Bay Area adjudicator. His career was divided between international banking and academe, most recently as a professor at the Monterey Institute of International Studies and an administrator at San Francisco State University. Victor holds a Ph.D. in marketing from the University of Houston.View all posts by Victor Cordell →