Athens JFF Blog

Looking forward to the Tenth Anniversary of the Athens Jewish Film Festival

As we approach our Tenth Anniversary film festival running March 24-28, 2018, we are excited by all the new events and changes the festival will embody.

The 2018 festival has grown from a four-day event to five. We have screened all the feature film submissions and are close to making our final selections.

Our Opening Night Gala on March 24 will be returning to the Georgia Museum of Art. Our closing night catered party and film screening will again be held at Hotel Indigo.

As we look forward to the great festival that will mark our tenth anniversary, it seemed like a good idea to look back a bit, and re-print the interview we did last year with founding members Abraham and Carmen Tesser.

carmen and abraham tesser

Carmen and Abraham Tesser, founders of
the Athens Jewish Film Festival.

An Interview with Athens JFF Founders

The Athens Jewish Film Festival was founded in 2008 by Carmen and Abraham Tesser, retired academics from The University of Georgia and longtime residents of the Athens Jewish community. Their blended family includes four children, 10 grandchildren and a large brown Labradoodle named Annie Hall.

The Tessers share some insight on how the festival began and what it has offered the Athens community.

Q: What inspired you and Abraham to start the Athens Jewish Film Festival? Tell us how the festival came about.

A: Both of us were enthusiastic reviewers for the Atlanta Jewish film Festival (2007-08) and felt that the festival was a wonderful thing for Atlanta. But it was a schlepp to Atlanta; there was a significant Jewish population in Athens and an intellectual culture that would support and celebrate a variety of ethnic expressions. At the same time, Athens was just becoming home to a new theatre, Ciné, that might be a natural venue for Jewish films.

We proposed to the Atlanta JFF that they create a “subsidiary” venue in Athens. After several proposals and months of waiting, it became clear that Atlanta wasn’t going to do it. In summer 2008, we invited a group of friends to discuss an audacious idea, one that was more complicated and labor intensive then we ever imagined, namely that Athens create its own Jewish film festival.

Q: Why did you start this festival? 
A: We get a lot of credit for starting the Athens Jewish Film Festival but the truth is that the film festival was started by a community. Simply put, even if we were crazy enough to attempt it on our own, we could not have succeeded.  All the people present at that first meeting put their money, their time, and their energy into enthusiastically creating something where there was nothing.

So, why did so many people run with this idea?
Maybe it was simply the right time; Jewish film festivals were turning up in many Jewish communities across the country then. This explanation, however, is not very informative and does not seem to do justice to the motives of many. And, 2008 was the time of a serious market crash/recession.

Athens is home to many people with a strong Jewish identity. Some of them are affiliated religiously, but many are not so affiliated. Their identity is cultural. The film festival provides an outlet in which all Jews, regardless of their religious affiliation, are able to learn about and celebrate their heritage. This was the first and only such outlet for Athens, and perhaps still is.

But it was not all about Jews. The first Board of Directors helped pull the festival up by its bootstraps. That board included non-Jews who worked hard and gave generously because they also saw the value of the festival to enriching the cultural mix in Athens.

The founding persons were highly engaged, often over their heads. There is a kind of camaraderie and special feeling that comes from working that hard on something new. Those feelings help to sustain the effort.

Q: What does the festival offer to the Athens community? 
A: Great film, some insight into Jewish anything, good discussion of film, good food and good fellowship. What else could one want from a community happening?
Q: If you could describe the festival in one word, what would it be? 
A: Community
Q: The festival is in its ninth year. Where do you hope to see it grow over the next nine years? 
A: We go to the festival each year and enjoy the films, the food, and the company. The first year was a miracle. Each additional year astonishes us even more. Dare we, kenahora, hope for nine more years? We love being in Athens, and the Athens Jewish Film Festival simply makes that experience sweeter!