2016 Maine Jewish Film Festival Promises a Week of Great Films!

Posted by Leah on 3/9/2016 1:26:25 PM

        Since its humble beginnings in the basement of a synagogue in Portland, Maine, showing films on VHS, the Maine Jewish Film Festival has worked to showcase films that portray the “Jewish experience,” while also promoting diversity and reaching out to the community as a whole. Over their 19 years the festival has featured over 375 films, both domestic and international, sold over 37,000 tickets to cinematic venues across Maine, with a yearly average of roughly 3,100, and has hosted 125 guest speakers.
        Why then have I never heard of it? There seem to be a few reasons why I’d never heard of this festival. #1: I no longer live in Maine, and don’t make it to Portland very often, (which is where I found the festival flier) #2: The only media coverage I could find about the festival was in a few Maine newspapers. Although I watch a Maine channel for my news coverage, I’ve never heard them mention it (that I can remember). And #3: It seems that, for New Hampshire anyways, we hear far more about New Hampshire and Boston’s goings-on, and almost never about some of the great events that annually take place in Maine.

        That said, I’m here to change all of that and tell you more about this amazing event. I had the opportunity to speak to Louise Rosen, the festival’s Executive and Artistic Director.  She joined the festival’s ranks back in 2012 and according to her, “The first thing the board of directors wanted me to do was to help the festival live up to its name. Up until then most of the films were shown in Portland, but it’s not the Portland Jewish Film Festival, it’s the Maine Jewish Film Festival, so my job was to expand it to other cities across the state,” Rosen said. At the moment the festival still shows most of the films at four venues across Portland, but there are three other satellite venues, one in Lewiston, one in Brunswick and one in Waterville.  Rosen told me that they hope to expand to other cities within Maine as they find films that will broaden community outreach and educational goals. Rosen also hopes to increase the festival’s educational outreach, geared towards high school students, in the future.

        Another interesting thing about this festival is the way in which they select the films that will be shown. Most film festivals rely almost 100% on submissions from filmmakers, after which a group of people watch the films and narrow down the list to a reasonable amount for the given festival. MJFF relies on their board members to be on the lookout for interesting and appropriate films at other festivals. They also have the Chair of the Screening Committee, Melinda Molin, spend time online looking for appropriate international films to be shown, as well as accepting traditional submissions from filmmakers. The films that make the short list, or not, is not only based on the ones the Screening Committee likes. Unlike other film festivals, MJFF negotiates screening fees and other conditions with the filmmakers, and a film may or may not make the list based on those fees and conditions. According to Rosen, who has worked with independent filmmakers outside of the festival since 1996, they don’t mind having to pay the filmmakers to show the films. She knows well the struggles that independent filmmakers go through, both financially and otherwise, and says that the festival is glad to help.

        Learning all that I have about the MJFF in the past few weeks has gotten me very excited to experience it firsthand. While there are an endless number of specialized film festivals out there, I haven’t yet been to one. Talking to Rosen about MJFF, I was astonished to find out just how educationally, community, and diversity focused they are. The film festivals I’ve attended thus far have focused only on the films, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but I think it will make for a much deeper festival experience knowing that this festival aims for the betterment of the state as a whole.

        So, if you’re in the Portland, Lewiston, Waterville or Brunswick area next week, or just want to see some really great films and have some time, I encourage you to check out the Maine Jewish Film Festival. MJFF runs March 12-19. More information about the festival itself, where and how to purchase tickets and what films will be shown can be found at