Meet AJFF: AJFF Board Member and Goodrich C. White Professor and Chair of Film and Media Studies at Emory University, Matthew Bernstein


Pictured: Matthew Bernstein (right) with Klezmer violinist Alicia Svigals (left) before The Ancient Law at Woodruff Arts Center

We're incredibly proud that AJFF attracts some of the most talented, passionate people. 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 AJFF Board Member and Goodrich C. White Professor and Chair of Film and Media Studies at Emory University, Matthew Bernstein.

A Little Bit about Matthew

Matthew is a native of Long Island, New York and has taught film history and criticism at Emory since 1989, where, since 2006, he has chaired and overseen the dramatic growth of the Department of Film and Media Studies. He specializes in the history of classical era Hollywood (1917-1960) and the ways studio business practices affected film style, genres and stars. He admires and teaches the films of great American directors like Alfred Hitchcock, as well as films from around the globe, and recent films. His most recent book treated screen versions of the Leo Frank case, and his current projects include a history of Columbia Pictures, and a history of Atlanta’s film culture (censorship, reception, business practices and theaters) in the segregated era. His wife Natalie Bond Bernstein is the elementary school librarian at the Paideia School.

How did you come to be involved with AJFF?

I had heard about the festival and I was on a research leave in 2005-2006, so I thought I’d check it out. I was so taken with the excitement of putting on a festival, the films, the volunteers, the staff and Kenny Blank himself, that I spent much of that year volunteering. I eventually co-chaired the festival for two years and now serve on the board. I’ve risen through the ranks, as it were.

What is the most interesting challenge, in improving AJFF, that you get to help with? 

I find there is little to improve as far as the AJFF goes. I now participate in the year-round programming the festival pursues, such as the recent screening at the Woodruff Arts Center of the silent German film The Ancient Law, with live accompaniment and AJFF on Campus at Emory coming up at the end of October.

What is your fondest memory from being involved with AJFF?

There are so many. All of the above, working with the great staff and Kenny and Brad. I feel it is a privilege to be involved. I enjoyed writing the Professor’s Picks column for many years. And it’s great fun to host Q&As with filmmakers (most recently Sam Pollard, who produced and directed 2018’s Opening Night film, Sammy Davis, Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me). I cannot overstate the importance of the festival for Atlanta and the Jewish community.

How has your experience outside of AJFF played into your work with the festival?

As the first, and perhaps still the only, film professor to volunteer with the fest, I like to think that I have been able to share my training in the analysis of film with the selection committee. Evaluators need to distinguish among the films they like and the films they admire—to understand what constitutes a well-made film regardless of whether you like it or not and to be able to explain that to others. And also to introduce the concept of the art film, the movies that do not zip along like Hollywood fare but are profoundly meaningful in their subjects and use of cinematic technique. And I am very proud of the various collaborations my department has been able to forge with the festival: these include bringing filmmakers to campus during the fest itself and year round, as with AJFF On Campus.

How do you describe AJFF to those who've never experienced it?

A world-class film festival that happens to focus on Jewish themes.

What's your favorite AJFF film, and why?

Hard to pick a favorite but here are a few: Above and Beyond, The Ritchie Boys, Only Human, Ida, Omar, The Matchmaker, The Schwartz Dynasty.  

Thank you to Matthew for his time this month and for his continued work with the organization. Stay tuned to see whom we profile next month.