We're incredibly proud that AJFF attracts some of the most talented, passionate people. We rely heavily on this village to make AJFF what it is, and we're going to introduce you to some of the people who make up that village. From our staff, to our volunteers, or even to members of our audience, there's a huge group of people that make AJFF a world-class cultural event. This month, we're putting the spotlight on Film Evaluation Chair and key faculty member for AJFF On Campus, Hazel Gold.
A Little Bit About Hazel
I’m originally from Brooklyn, NY but have lived in Atlanta since I joined the Emory University faculty in 1992. Previously I taught at Columbia University and Northwestern University. At Emory I’m a professor in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese and also a core faculty member in the Tam Institute for Jewish Studies. My research and teaching focus on modern Spain as well as Sephardic culture and Ladino language studies. I’m bilingual in Spanish/English, relatively fluent in French, and read Catalan, although I wish my command of Hebrew was better. My heavy professional travel schedule makes it hard to have pets but I’m the unofficial ‘aunt’ to my brother’s family’s dog, Heather, and their cat, Minion. Who, by the way, if frequently confused with “Minyan.”
How did you come to be involved with AJFF?
Another Emory colleague who is heavily engaged with AJFF, Matthew Bernstein in Film Studies, suggested I apply to join the Guest Programming committee. That was quite a fortuitous invitation because it set me on a path of increasing involvement in the festival. Subsequently I became a volunteer member of the Film Evaluation committee. A few years later [AJFF Executive Director] Kenny Blank reached out to me about co-chairing this committee. I’m now serving my second year as co-chair and am thoroughly enjoying my work in this role.
What is the most interesting challenge, in improving AJFF, that you get to help with?
Putting together the final program for each year’s festival is an enormous challenge: so many topics and genres of films, from so many countries, all competing for a slot in the schedule. No less important is considering the varying tastes of our very diverse audiences. For some moviegoers the AJFF is an opportunity to bear witness to complex and difficult historical subjects including the Holocaust or contemporary Israeli politics. Others prefer lighter fare, like comedies and documentaries that profile lesser-known Jewish personalities and Jewish communities around the world and at home in the U.S. For every audience member who seeks out films dealing with literature, art, dance, and music there’s another one who favors mainstream productions that tell a conventional story with a clear plot. Many have told me how glad they are that the festival offers such a broad array of foreign films from Europe, the Middle East, Latin America and elsewhere that otherwise wouldn’t be screened in Atlanta, but I’ve also heard from attendees who say they are allergic to subtitled movies. During Evaluation Committee meetings I and Gabe Wardell, this year’s other co-chair, listen very carefully to what our volunteer film screeners say about the appeal (or challenges) of specific films. At the same time I use these discussions whenever possible to offer additional context and point out features that may enhance or detract from the interest that certain films may elicit in our audiences, and in this way encourage that all entries submitted to the festival receive proper consideration. The hope is that the widest variety of films end up being selected. While we are always focused on films that are oriented to a Jewish perspective, the success of AJFF is predicated not on offering a limited slice of cinema but instead a veritable smorgasbord of choices that will appeal to people of different ages, ethnicities, and faiths across a wide spectrum of the Atlanta community.
What is your fondest memory from being involved with AJFF?
After doing a brief presention of one of last year’s films, an audience member approached me after the screening and told me that my introduction helped him understand and really appreciate what he had just watched. Another high point was having the opportunity to moderate a Q&A with Betty Murphy, the daughter of the legendary Ladino singer and composer Flory Jagoda, who was the subject of Flory's Flame, a documentary shown at the festival a few years ago.
How has your experience outside of AJFF played into your work with the festival?
I often include films in the classes I teach; this familiarity with elements of film analysis and history plays directly into the way I judge the films that I watch for AJFF and how I comment on them in meetings of the Film Evaluation committee. Also, as a professor I do a lot of public speaking in conferences and in the classroom. As a result I’m very comfortable helping to lead committee discussions. It’s important to me that we hear many voices and opinions in the room and that as a group we establish an ongoing, respectful dialogue. I’ve worked hard to achieve this in my classes and now I have the chance to apply this same approach through my leadership role in AJFF.
What is the most rewarding aspect of being involved with AJFF?
Through my work with AJFF I’ve met so many people from all over Atlanta who share my love of movies as an art form and a social vehicle. And I’ve also enjoyed doing publicity—local newspaper and radio interviews, for instance—to get the word out to the larger Atlanta community about why the festival matters.
What's your favorite AJFF film, and why?
In the narrative category, Fanny’s Journey—the suspenseful tale of a group of young children outrunning the Nazis as they escaped occupied France by crossing the border into Switzerland—had me on the edge of my seat. The cast of child actors was extraordinary and the film became even more meaningful knowing that it was based on a true story.
Thank you to Hazel for her time this month. AJFF has been privileged to have her involved in so many of our efforts to date and and hopefully, many more to come. Stay tuned to see who we profile next month.