Kate Feiffer is the Film Consultant for the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center Summer Institute. Her film, “Matzo and Mistletoe,” screened at the Summer Institute’s Film Festival in 2007. This year, Ms. Feiffer took on a different role, selecting the films for the festival along with a committee of five. She met me in her home to discuss the process.
“The best part about my job is the opportunity to watch films that very few people have seen, before they are screened.
I start by doing a lot of research, and then it’s sort of a big fishing expedition. We don’t have the budget to travel around the world, but thankfully there are a lot of great Jewish film festivals and film festivals in general. So I start there. I call my filmmaker friends to find out what they’ve been working on and what their friends are working on.
I do all of the initial screenings. Occasionally someone else on the committee will bring a film to me, but mostly I seek them out and pass along the ones I seriously consider to the committee.
This year I found 20-30 films that I wanted to see. When I’m looking for films, I’m looking for films that will generate conversation. And films that are entertaining, of course. I want an array of content, I want to explore themes that are pertinent to politics and culture today.
I was very aware of the question ‘who’s coming to these screenings?’ Do they want to leave a screening depressed? Do we want to show the heaviest of the heavy films? Maybe, but if we do, let’s have a lighter film following that. We did try to curate a nice balance, I hope we were successful.
Sometimes it’s tricky because I fall in love with two films that are too similar; its hard to manage that. The hardest part is making a final selection.
We have six films, five of which are going to be shown at the M.V. Film Center, which is a new venue for the Summer Institute.
Our opening night film is “Hava Nagila,” which is a wild romp of a film. It’s very fun and we wanted to open with a party. We hope to have live klezmer music and cake and get people dancing
“Fill the Void” is the only film that we couldn’t get an advance screen on, it wasn’t distributed in the U.S. until a couple of weeks ago. So that’s a film I picked without seeing. I chose it exclusively by reading about it and hearing about it. Rabbi Caryn Broitman saw it while she was in Israel. She thought it was a really interesting film, and gave it two thumbs up. It’s a look into the Hasidic community that we don’t often get to see.
“Melting Away” is a film with a great surprise ending that explores transgender issues, which seem to be in the news every day now.
“Hannah Arendt” is a biopic. It’s very compelling, both with people who are familiar with her work and those who are not. It’s a fascinating look into the intellectual culture of her work, and the controversy surrounding the Eichmann trial.
“The World is Funny” is a very moving film that has various storylines that all come together, involving quirky characters.
All the films are fabulous, they have so many layers to them. None of these films are straightforward, they are all layered with plot lines and themes. I love the selection.
One of the things we wanted to do was have Vineyard premiers for these films. “The World is Funny” was the most popular film in Israel last year. “Fill the Void” won a bunch of Israeli Academy Awards. A lot of these films have vast audiences in Israel and elsewhere, so it’s exciting to bring them here.
Something new this year is we’re bringing in speakers with every film. Each film has something tied to it so it’s not just a film, it’s an event.
The committee chose the speakers together, as a joint effort. We discuss who people would want to hear, and who could add something of merit to the film they just saw. With these films, we hope the audience wants to discuss it after, so here’s a great way to launch that conversation, to keep it going into the lobby, the parking lot, and the next day.”
Films are presented Sundays at 8 pm from July 7–August 18 at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center, located in the Tisbury Marketplace in Vineyard Haven. The suggested contribution is $12. For more information, visit mvsummerinstitute.com or call 508-693-0745.