We're incredibly proud that AJFF attracts some of the most talented, passionate people. We rely heavily on this village – from our staff, to our sponsors and volunteers, to our audience – to make AJFF a world-class cultural event. This month, get to know one member of that village, our Community Engagement Manager, Dina Fuchs-Beresin.
What Does AJFF Do With Community Engagement?
AJFF is driven by a simple philosophy, that movies can both entertain and educate.
Everyone goes to the movies, so in that safe space, film becomes a powerful tool for uniting communities. As one of the most immersive art forms, film also creates opportunities for deeper understanding of complex, even contentious, issues. That is where our Community Engagement team comes in.
Under Dina's leadership, the Community Engagement committee – made up of volunteers from Atlanta's diverse cultural, ethnic, and religious subsets – works to connect those groups with AJFF. Just as importantly, they work to connect AJFF with those diverse communities, so their perspectives can help inform our programming. Using film as a touchpoint, we build authentic relationships that resonate beyond the screen and spark meaningful conversations that go on long after the credits have rolled.
So who is Dina Fuchs-Beresin?
"I moved to Atlanta in 1992, after graduating from American University in Washington D.C. After many years at CNN, I moved to Chicago to join the producing staff at The Oprah Winfrey Show. I eventually moved back to Atlanta, took a job with the Jewish Federation, got married and had two children."
How did you get involved with AJFF?
"In 2011, I was co-chairing the PJ Library initiative through Federation. We sponsored the anniversary screening of An American Tail that year and I was invited to introduce the movie.
"A few months later, Staci Brill (then AJFF’s Development Director) asked if I’d be interested in coming on board as AJFF’s Guest Coordinator. I took the job and spent five years in that role before taking on the Community Engagement Manager position this past April."
What is the most interesting challenge, in improving AJFF, that you get to help with?
"Community Engagement, in and of itself, is a challenge. In the past, we largely relied on our yearly film lineup to dictate which communities we reached out to. The films we showcase have differing themes each year, and the festival runs just 23 days.
"That leaves much more time throughout the year to deepen our ties with different communities. We are looking for creative ways to work together on programming that is mutually beneficial, and speaks to our mission of inspiring new levels of social and cultural understanding."
What is your fondest memory from being involved with AJFF?
"We had a beautiful, epic feature called Persona Non Grata that we showed during the last festival. The film was a labor of love for director, Cellin Gluck, as he is the son of a Japanese mother and Jewish father, and the movie tells the true story of the man known to many as the 'Japanese Schindler'.
"CellIin happens to be one of the nicest guests we’ve hosted at AJFF and during his visit, we were fortunate enough to arrange an intimate luncheon at the home of the new Japanese Consul General, Takashi Shinozuka. Not only was the meal amazing and delicious, it was thrilling to have a seat at that table, alongside key leadership from American Jewish Committee.
"Those experiences illustrate just how the festival can serve to cultivate friendships and build bridges to communities we may not otherwise get to know."
How as your experience outside of AJFF played into your work with the festival?
"As a mom of two young kids, I’m keenly aware that film is a powerful educational tool. Some of the films in our yearly festival are tough to watch, but they encourage important conversations and expose us to people and cultures whose lives are vastly different from our own.
"A few years ago, we showed a film called Zemene, that dealt with a young girl living with a severe genetic abnormality in a poor African village. I brought my kids, then 6 and 9, to see the movie and hear from the Ethiopian-based doctor who joined us for a post-film Q&A session. Both my kids were riveted by this documentary and enlightened in a way that was beyond my expectations.
"I’d like to find more creative ways to encourage kids to use film to open their eyes to worlds beyond the comfort and safety they often take for granted here in Atlanta."
What is the most rewarding aspect of being involved with AJFF?
"It’s very satisfying to stand in the back of the theater and take in the scene of an audience captivated by a film they might otherwise never have the chance to see. To know that you had a hand in bringing that to Atlanta, and a say in shaping the programming involved – I find that so meaningful."
What's your favorite AJFF film, and why?
"Run Boy Run is not only my favorite AJFF film, it’s one of my favorite movies in general. The cinematography is gorgeous and the story is so gripping and impactful, I’d put it right up there with Schindler’s List."
Thank you to Dina for her time this month and her endless commitment to the organization, which would not look the same without her dedication and care. Stay tuned to see who we profile next month!