Behind the Scenes at the Twin Cities Jewish Film Festival

When the late RuthAnn Weiss, then the Cultural Arts Director at the Minneapolis Sabes JCC, presented the first Twin Cities Jewish Film Festival about 20 years ago, it was humble, with just three films and a couple of volunteer directors. Now, the festival has grown into an annual celebration of Jewish and Israeli art, co-sponsored with the St. Paul JCC and has two paid co-directors, 11 screenings, and both an opening and closing event.

Walter Elias, a co-chair on the festival advisory board and the unofficial “founder” of the fest, said over the years an influx in viewership meant finding a bigger budget to pay for feature films — the cost of one showing has escalated from $200 to $1500 — and finding ways to attract a younger audience.

“And that’s exactly what happened,” Elias said.

The festival now hosts events between showings and invites film experts and directors to talk about subjects discussed in the movies and their impact on the community.

Out of the hundreds of films considered, about 11 are selected for airing — one percent of their starting number.

Each year, Elias gets to pick a film that doesn’t go through the selection process because of his status as the “founder of the fest.” This year, he chose “Is That You?”, showing October 24th at the Sabes JCC. It’s about finding love and harnessing life’s regrets. The film is directed by an Israeli director and was filmed in New York.

“There isn’t anybody who doesn’t have the feeling that, ‘If I would’ve done things differently, how would my life have turned out? ’” Elias said. “It’s kind of the theme, and everyone can relate to it.”

Behind the scenes, staff at the St. Paul and Sabes JCCs work for about five months to review and select films from around the world. Film fest co-director, Todd Bruse, says upcoming films are tracked, and when one looks promising, it’s time to watch and review it. Out of the hundreds of films considered, about 11 are selected for airing — one percent of their starting number. Most of those films come from the U.S., Israel and Europe, and are chosen because of their captivating themes and Jewish content.

JCC employees and volunteers put together the final product, including setting up and cleaning up before and after an airing, co-director Marley Richman says. “Nothing ever goes exactly as planned, there’s always a new challenge to face,” Richman says. “But, I kind of like it, it keeps me on my toes.”

This year, the festival will air films at new locations, including the St. Anthony Main Theatre near the University of Minnesota and the Omni Theater at the Science Museum of Minnesota.

Festival organizers also hope to offer local Jewish filmmakers with the opportunity to submit their films for review in future years, in an effort to bring more Twin Cities flavor to the event. Still, Elias said there’s room for expansion. He said he wants to see the event grow its audience base and showcase a greater number of films, if there’s demand. “And I would like it to continue to bring in directors and subject-matter experts to have discussion after,” he said. “It’s an important part of the film festival.”

To view the Twin Cities Jewish Film Fest brochure, find screenings, purchase tickets and find ways to get involved, visit