By Timothy Gillis
PORTLAND – The 15th annual Maine Jewish Film Festival is more diverse than ever, in both its cinematic content and the audience it hopes to reach. A hip ad campaign using stereotype-bending photos and social media is aimed at bringing in first-timers who will be in for a variety of visual treats.
Kari Wagner-Peck, executive and artistic director, credited the way local groups have worked together for the unprecedented offerings this year.
“We’ve been able to add a day to the festival, and more free programming than ever, thanks to this community,” she said. The Quimby Foundation gave MJFF $28,000 (the organization’s largest-ever donation), Garrand advertising agency helped with marketing, and local venues opened up their spaces.
Larry Vine, chief creative director at Garrand, said “It’s important to help expose people to other cultures. It’s how we learn to appreciate each other, how we get along.” Hoping to combat misconceptions about the Festival as appealing only to a Jewish audience, he said “It’s like any foreign film. A good movie is a good movie.” Vine, who is also a board member of MJFF, said Garrand helped out by sponsoring the opening night, as well as offering pro-bono work on the ad campaign. “They were great,” Wagner-Peck said. “Because of them, we basically had our own Mad Men.”
Joe Rosenfield, board member of MJFF and its marketing director, said the advertising campaign this year was aimed at attracting a new and younger audience. The non-profit arts group received a $1,500 visibility grant from the Maine Arts Commission with the specific purpose of targeting 18-36 year-olds, using social media. “We’ve had great results. Our facebook page (Maine Jewish Film Festival) has 160 likes in just three weeks,” he said. “We’re not really targeting just people of the Jewish faith, as much as film buffs.”
The ad campaign features photos of people – a priest, a blond family, someone with tattoos – from all walks of life, a variety of potential fans. The slogan (“You don’t need to be Jewish. You just need to love good films”) comes from a 1950’s advertisement for Levy’s rye bread, Vine said. “We are trying to bring a bit of humor to the campaign,” Rosenfield said. He also touted the diversity of this year’s films. “Thursday night, we feature a film from France (‘The Names of Love’ by Michel Leclerc), ‘The Hebrew Hammer’ (directed by Jonathan Kesselman) is from the United States.”
Akari offered its salon for the sold-out opening night party. Allan Labos, the owner, said it was his first year involved with the festival, and he was looking forward to helping kick it off. “We’ve changed the layout and design to accommodate 200 plus people,” he said. Their proximity to the Temple Street theater made Akari a natural venue for the soiree. “There will be live music, hors d’oeuvres, beverages. We’ll be promoting the films on large-screen TV’s. Hopefully, we’ll reflect what’s going on at the festival.”