Jewish film series turns 25 at Columbia Jewish Congregation

The Columbia Jewish Congregation will be calling “Action!” on another season of four engaging and thought-provoking films starting Jan. 14.

The year 2017 marks the 25th Columbia Jewish Congregation’s Film Series.

Each film, handpicked by the CJC’s selection committee, deals explicitly with the Jewish experience. The screenings take place once a month, with the final showing on April 22.

For the price of a single ticket ($10 at the door) or a sliding scale for cost-conscious ticket packages ($19 for two films, $27 for three films and $32 for four films), patrons can enjoy the evening’s screening as well as refreshments (cookies, a fruit plate, coffee and tea) and a “talkback” following the movie for those who wish to discuss the film.

“I started the film series based on my comment to the rabbi at Columbia Jewish Congregation at the time — Martin Siegel — that it would be fun,” said former CJC congregant Sylvia Bloch.

“He said, ‘Yeah, why don’t you start it?’”

Originally from New Jersey, current Columbia retiree Bloch has enjoyed a varied career ranging from teaching to working as the on-site editor for a physics laboratory.

Bloch had long been a member of CJC before moving on only recently to another area synagogue. She still remains on the eight-person selection committee for films, however, and graciously passed along her initial duties as coordinator of the series in the 19th year of its run.

She also refers to herself as a gadfly in the area, qualifying herself as “not the only one” with a playful chuckle. As such, in addition to facilitating a great deal of the publicity for this year’s film series, Bloch helps to choose which films will be screened.

“We usually start deciding toward the end of May or beginning of June,” Bloch said. “Each committee member suggests films, and we usually end up with about 16 to decide on.”

From there, Bloch said, one person on the committee is tasked with researching integral aspects of screening the films nominated — exhibition cost, length, availability, etc. — before the group continues its discussions by email.

The top picks also are chosen over a continued email correspondence before the group comes to decide upon the order in which the films will be shown.

Because the group seeks to present a variety of types of films in the series, genre is also an important determining factor in the selection.

“It’s the first thing we look for,” said Bloch, adding the four genres they tend to screen are “humor, which is very difficult [to decide on], drama, documentary and something light, like a musical.”

Bloch said the committee may sometimes choose two films within the same genre if the films are different enough from one another.

The price of showing the film is also a significant consideration; in order to legally sell tickets to the films, the congregation must purchase the rights to do so from the movie’s distributor. This expense can range anywhere from $125 (for older films) to $7,000 for more recent films in higher demand.

It’s for this reason that the film series will occasionally show older films whose rights might be less cost-prohibitive.

On Saturday, March 18, for example, the series will present the 2012 Israeli film “The Farewell Party.”
The 95-minute Hebrew language feature (subtitled in English) “is a unique, compassionate and funny story of a group of friends at a Jerusalem retirement home who decide to help their terminally ill friend,” as detailed by the CJC flier for the series.

“When rumors of their assistance begin to spread, more and more people ask for their help and the friends are faced with a life-and-death dilemma,” the CJC concludes in its description of the film.

Others include the 2015 film from the United States, “Rosenwald”; the 2016 Israeli film “The Kind Words”; and the 2014 U.S. film “Deli Man.”

“I find it really pleasant that people come up to me asking when the flier will be sent out,” Bloch said about the series that typically brings in around 175 to 200 viewers. “It’s an anticipated event.”

Mathew Klickstein is senior reporter for the Baltimore Jewish Times.

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