Far-flung JCCs bring a single film festival to your living room

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It’s a truism that in the Washington area, it’s hard to get a Marylander to cross the river into Northern Virginia, and vice versa. And both Maryland and Virginia suburbanites disdain driving into the District and trying to find parking.

And so the Washington area has three Jewish Community Centers, each of which holds an annual Jewish film festival.


Not this year. Because the Jewish community is operating largely online, neither the Edlavitch DC Jewish Community Center, nor the Bender Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington in Rockville, nor the Pozez Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia in Fairfax is firing up the movie projector to screen the latest Israeli documentary or Orthodox romance for an in-person audience. Instead, from Dec. 3-10, the three are sponsoring a single, regional online film festival. No bridge traffic or parking necessary.

The Edlavitch JCC had been on the cusp of announcing JxJ film and music festival programming just as COVID-19 struck in mid-March, according to Ilya Tovbis, artistic and managing director of JxJ.

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“We had to postpone our May festival,” Tovbis explained. “So, as many of our colleagues did, we pivoted to virtual and conversations began with the other two area JCCs, which both generally do a good job with film programming in particular, and also a bit of music programming.”

For Susan Fischer, chief program officer at Rockville’s Bender JCC, signing on to jointly market and share JxJ’s programming with Bender’s suburban Maryland constituency was a great opportunity during a challenging period.


While the Rockville JCC has had a successful regular film series in recent years — often selling out its 300-seat auditorium — forging this partnership allows risk-sharing at a time when the organization had to furlough some of its arts and culture staff.

When public gatherings were halted earlier this year, Jeff Dannick, executive director of Fairfax’s Pozez JCC, and his staff were finalizing bookings for Pozez’s own film festival. Rather than reinvent the wheel online and renegotiate contracts for virtual screenings with a depleted staff — at the Pozez JCC the entire cultural arts staff has been furloughed — partnering with Edlavitch’s JxJ made sense.

The bulk of the financial obligation for the revamped virtual festival falls on the Edlavitch JCC, Tovbis said, because the majority of the programs were originally booked for the canceled May festival.

While he and the other JCCs don’t anticipate large profits from the virtual iteration in December, honoring the contracts and agreements with both funders and artists was important. Ultimately, the Edlavitch JCC held to as many contracts as it could by converting those artists who were able to from live to online performances.

Looking ahead, each of the JCC managers hopes this collaboration will be followed by others. In the post-pandemic era, Dannick said, “All of us will be looking at efficiencies …. While we have all shifted, out of necessity, to virtual platforms to reach our communities, this is also a huge opportunity. More than the challenge of crossing rivers and borders, COVID made us all more receptive to collaboration and, I suspect for a long time, we will all have to be more accepting of sharing our resources.”

Fischer said, “absolutely,” when asked about continuing to partner with her sister JCCs, adding, “It’s not just in arts programming, we’re certainly open to other [joint] programming ideas. We each have expertise in our fields, but collaboration will only benefit us all.”

Added Tovbis, “Clearly, and there’s an interest in cultural programming that all three communities have a strong affinity for.”

According to the Edlavitch DCJCC, the schedule will be announced later this month.

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