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 co-chair of Guest Programming and member of United States Holocaust Memorial Council, Michèle Taylor.
A Little Bit About Michèle
Michèle Taylor is an active community volunteer. She serves as a member of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, to which she was appointed by President Obama, and continues to serve at the pleasure of the president. Michèle, the daughter of a Holocaust survivor, serves on two committees with the council, addressing genocide and atrocity prevention as well as state sponsored anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial. Michèle also serves as the development chair for the board of the National Center for Civil and Human Rights and the treasurer of the Midtown Improvement District here in Atlanta. Michèle is very politically active, having served as vice-chair of the National Finance Committee for the Democratic National Committee until 2017. She continues to advise national and Georgia campaigns and serves as an advisor to Joe Biden’s leadership PAC. Michèle also works as a course director and lead Instructor for the North Carolina Outward Bound School. Michèle is trained as a first responder in wilderness settings and holds a graduate degree in theoretical mathematics. She is married to Kenneth Taylor, co-chair of the AJFF Development Committee and a cardiologist at Piedmont Hospital. He is a native and fourth-generation Atlantan. They raised their two grown children, Zach and Zoë, in Midtown Atlanta.
How did you come to be involved with AJFF?
The Atlanta Jewish Film Festival has been a staple in our lives year after year. From the moment we first learned about it, we signed up for tickets and have been long-time sponsors. The idea of being able to go to meaningful films with our Atlanta Jewish community, of which Kenneth has been a part for all of his life, and have the ability to discuss them afterward was impossible not to be excited about! We are very community-oriented people and love that this is a really engaging way to see films. Also, I grew up in the Bay Area. The San Francisco Jewish Film Festival started while I was in college and I loved being part of it. Plus, there developed a bit of a rivalry to see which festival would end up with the most attendees – theirs or ours – and Kenneth and I made light-hearted banter about our home towns. We were both happy to help put Atlanta on top a few years ago!
What is the most interesting challenge, in improving AJFF, that you get to help with?
For me, a big part of what makes the festival experience so special, other than watching films with so much of my community, are the speakers, introducers and panelists. They give context, historical background, behind-the-scenes looks, opportunity for robust and healthy debate, etc. I know that this is a critical part of the AJFF and I am excited to be able to help grow the list of talented speakers as well, and ensure that all of the introducers are well trained and what they have to say truly enhances the experience of the viewer. As co-chair of the Guest Programming Committee, I have the ability to help identify speakers and have stepped up to help guide those that introduce films as well.
What is your fondest memory from being involved with AJFF?
I have so many it is hard to pinpoint one. There was a film in 2017 titled The Settlers that delved deeply into the settlement question in Israel. The director, Shimon Dotan, both introduced the film and took questions afterward. It was amazing to be able, in a safe and friendly environment, to discuss such a charged topic with people with widely differing opinions. I learned a lot that day that challenged some of my beliefs and affirmed others. The conversations continued in the lobby in the hour or so after the screening and days later in coffee shops. Really, they are still happening for me even if the film itself isn’t mentioned.
How has your experience outside of AJFF played into your work with the festival?
Certainly my experience on the Holocaust Council has played a direct role in terms of my connections with people who work in Holocaust history and knowledge of rising anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial. I think that my work in a wide variety of spaces has also meant that I am striving to diversify our speakers and audience. The films discussed, whether serious, artistic or comedic, resonate with and reflect the experiences of so many diverse people. And I draw upon my experiences and knowledge when I am fortunate enough to be asked to introduce a film myself. With Jungle I was able to draw heavily on my outdoor experience!
What is the most rewarding aspect of being involved with AJFF?
The conversations that take place after―even months or years―watching a film and the fact that so many of us have the shared experience. Also, I really love to introduce films. It challenges me to learn about the specifics of the film, sometimes the topic and sometimes the filmmaking, and figure out how to provide the right amount of information to add to the experience without influencing the viewers’ opinions or giving anything away!
Who would you cast to play you in a film?
That’s easy. Gal Gadot. Who wouldn’t want to be a Jewish Wonder Woman?!?
Thank you to Michèle for her time this month and her participation with AJFF. Stay tuned to see whom we profile next month.