Behind the Screen

Judith Gordon

Elaine Bermitz speaks to Judith Gordon, chairperson for the Manchester coordination committee of the UK Jewish Film Festival.

“Cinema has the power to enable change – it encourages compassion, tolerance and understanding. This is why we set ourselves the task of bringing these films to you.” So believes Judith Gordon, chair of the Manchester arm of the renowned UK Jewish Film Festival (UKJFF).

A Sheffield-born teacher and mother of documentary filmmaker Daniel Gordon, she spent 10 years of her life in Israel, and has watched the Israeli film industry grow from short, staccato films or subtitled foreign films to the dynamic award-winning industry it has now become. Moving back to the UK, she maintained her interest in Israeli and Jewish interest films and is constantly amazed at how many films she discovers.

It is not surprising then, that when the administrators of UKJFF were looking for someone to take the northern end of the festival from a few films shown as an afterthought sometime after the London event, to the much-anticipated event it has become, Judith was chosen for the job. Every November since her involvement, HOME Manchester and Cineworld Didsbury have hosted an increasing number of films by Jewish directors, writers or producers or about trailblazing Jewish personalities to enthusiastic audiences. Many of them have won awards at international film festivals and some, like last year’s Son of Saul have won mainstream prizes including Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards. This year, 12 films will be screened, and for the first time, the gala opening will be visited by the writer and lead actor in Manchester, rather than London.

Judith is very pleased about this vote of confidence in the North West, and even more pleased at the variety of the films on offer, so I asked how they were chosen: “We simply watch out for whatever is new, trying not to stick to one style or subject. We also like to choose the unknown or the surprising, as well as those which are particular draws.” she said.

I also asked her how the festival had become such a success: “The film festival has been going for over 20 years, but until 2011, we got very little warning as to the films we might be showing. We had already established the Menorah Film Club and that year, a film called The Band’s Visit was a huge success. So myself, Lucille Cohen, then the president of the Rep Council, Doreen Gerson of the Israel Information Centre, Gita Conn and later, Dov Hamburger, formed a group with the common aim of bringing the best of the UKJFF films to Manchester.

The next year, we opened with six films and showing the opening film simultaneously with London. We repeated the formula in 2013 and almost every house was packed. In 2015, we increased from eight to 12 films – four at HOME and eight at Cineworld, and began bringing directors and actors over for post-film talks. Since then we have established great relationships with the cinema staff and are beginning to attract regular sponsorship as the ticket price does not cover the cost of screening the films.”

I asked her what gave her the most pleasure when thinking about the festival: “That the films are of such high quality and so very varied – from a comedy about orthodox women’s liberation to the life of international musical conductor Zubin Mehta, or the lyrical Polish film, Past Life.”

Tickets for the festival screenings are available from Ukjewishfilm.org/Manchester.