AJFF Interview: Film Evaluation Co-Chair Gabe Wardell


As a small staff, we rely heavily on the support of our volunteer leadership. We are fortunate to have a number of dedicated industry professional that help us out on our committees before the festival and speakers during the festival. 

One person who you may have been hearing a lot from this year is Gabe Wardell, our Film Evaluation Committee Co-chair. He has spoken a lot about the 2015 festival on our behalf and we spoke with him before he headed into introduce The Shop on Main Street earlier this week.

Q: How did you get involved in AJFF?
I used to be the executive director of the Atlanta Film Festival and I continue to work as the producer of the 48-hour film project and in those capacities I had met [Executive Director] Kenny Blank many years ago. We developed a relationship and did some collaboration at that time. Over the years, I've been invited to participate first  introducing films and then the programming committee, which is now the guest programming committee. This year I was invited to participate on the evaluation committee. 

Q:What are the films that you like to introduce and why?
That's a difficult question because this is a Sophie's choice type of question this year. I'm on the evolution committee, but I would like to say that I like introducing films that are challenging. I like the opportunity to prepare the audience for their task ahead of them. If it's a crowd pleaser, there isn't much that you need to do. So, providing the context for a more challenging or difficult work I think is a lot more rewarding and fun. The other things that I like to do is I love discussing films afterwards. So when there is a filmmaker or a Q&A over a panel that is always a rewarding time. You have a chance to interact directly with the audience and often directly with the creators or with some thinkers who are going to provide some interesting context around the film and the audiences reaction to them.

Q: What are some of the memorable Q&A's that you've done this year or in past year?
This year I've done one so far, for the world premiere of Dough. The director and lead actor were in town from London which was terrific. What was great about this opportunity this year was that the film was a total crowd pleaser and to know that its a brand new film, never before seen before an audience, this feedback was critical to the success of the film. They haven't sold it yet in American territories. The financiers and the potential distribution partners in the US are looking very carefully at this reaction. So, to see it get a standing ovation. To see the overwhelming audience reaction for the film and then ultimately see it scheduled as one of the additional add-on screenings is just an amazing thing to be part of. We just hope the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival serves as a great launching pad for that film.

Q: Tonight you are going to be introducing one of the films in our classic series. How do you think the classic series adds to the film festival?
A: I'm someone who has a film background, has studied film, and has always loved cinema. For me, the opportunity to show classics is one that should never be passed. I think people should embrace them. I think the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival has a great opportunity to provide these films an opportunity to live in theater in front of an audience instead of where a lot classic are relegated now to television broadcasts, Netflix, or worse yet, obscurity in the back of video stores that are barely existent. So it's amazing to see sold out audiences coming to see classics like The Shop on Main Street and Avalon. 

Q: Where do you want to see the festival go?
A: Well, I really would say the sky the limit for this event. Every time I think that it has reached it limit and capacity and stabilized, it continues to expand. It's expanded venues, days, screenings, screens, so forth. It's just been amazing to see it develop. Ultimately, it would be great, and I know there is an ongoing competition with the other film festival in San Francisco, so we'd love to see it becomes he number one Jewish film festival in north america and I think it's within reach. I love doing world premieres. I think being the launching point for a lot of international films and a destination for North American audiences. I think this festival has set the ground work, not only to serve this community, but to serve the world community.