Louisville Jewish Film Festival concludes box office-record season

A Sammy Davis, Jr. documentary kicked off this year’s Louisville Jewish Film Festival.

The Louisville Jewish Film Festival wrapped up its 20th season with a lot of smiles and at least one record.
More than 1,400 tickets were sold this year, according to festival Director Marsha Bornstein. “It was absolutely record breaking in the number of tickets sold,” she said.
Not that everyone who bought a ticket saw a show. The next to last screening on Saturday night, February 24, coincided with the torrential rainstorm that touched off flash flooding around Louisville Metro, keeping several moviegoers from the cinema.
But even a flood couldn’t drown the success of this season.
Bornstein chalked up the festival’s success largely to the types of films screened.
“People really liked the variety of films,” she said. “We had more comedies, more films in English, children’s films a film about people with disabilities, Holocaust films.”
She also gave five TV interviews, sent out targeted emails and utilized social media and online advertising, all raising the festival’s profile.
“In terms of publicity,” she said, “it was our best year.”
But the biggest reason for success, Bornstein said, was the festival’s “longevity.” After 20 seasons, there’s an established audience that just looks forward to it year after year.
“You just have to pay your dues, and it grows – if you do a good job.”
Not all the moviegoers were Jewish. In fact, Bornstein speculated that about one-quarter of her total audience was not, though she had no hard figures to back that up.
But it speaks to the eclectic nature of her audience, which could explain why Imagine Greater Louisville 2020, a cultural funding effort, awarded the festival a $4,800 grant to promote “cross-cultural understanding within the Louisville community.”
The grant, Bornstein said, marks the festival as a “mainstream art event.”
This year, the opening night festivities, which featured the documentary Sammy Davis, Jr: I’ve Gotta Be Me, and an impersonator of the legendary performer, drew more than 300 people.
Then, The Pickle Recipe, a hilarious comedy about a man who, needing his mobster uncle’s help in paying for his daughter’s bat mitzvah, agrees to steal his grandmother’s pickle recipe, drew 227.
This one-two punch in ticket sales was just the launch Bornstein needed to stoke box office activity.
“Those two films just jump-started us,” she said.
But ticket sales reflect only part of the income picture, Bornstein said. In the past, she’s paid as much as $1,200 for a film. And the venue can cost as much as $500 depending on the day and time.
“Even if we sell out the house, it doesn’t mean we make any money,” she said. “We’re grateful for grants, our patrons and our donors. None of it is going to happen without them.”
Looking ahead, Bornstein said she can’t promise that the quality of available pictures will stay the same year after year. (She noted this was an unusually good season for comedies.) But she promised her committee would always bring the best films people want – and need – to see.
Even if that means the film doesn’t do well at the box office.
“We’re willing to pay the cost of a film we know will not be as popular,” Bornstein said, “but the content is so important that we must show it.”
The only sad note to this year’s festival was the absence of Louis Levy, the festival’s co-founder, who died weeks before the opening.
“It was different,” said Bornstein, who has been running the film festival for 14 seasons, each one with Levy on hand. “He would have loved it; it was his cup of tea.”

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