Staff Picks of the 2020 AJFF


We, as a staff, love talking about the films of the festival to anyone, anytime, almost any place. Now is the time we get talk about them non-stop with everyone else and we're taking full advantage. So, what are the Staff Picks of the 2020 AJFF? 

Kenny Blank, Executive Director

Last Week at Ed’s
This touching and intimate look at the closing of a beloved Hollywood diner reveals another facet of writer-director Lawrence Kasdan’s diverse career. Though seemingly a far cry from his blockbuster filmography, this observational look at an eclectic, real life “cast of characters”—the owners, customers, cooks and servers—is not unlike Kasdan’s classic character-driven dramas The Big Chill or The Accidental Tourist: everyday people trying to figure it out. Once again, Kasdan’s empathy for and understanding of the human condition shines through. Following his 2016 visit to Atlanta to accept the AJFF Icon Award, we are honored and delighted to once again host Lawrence Kasdan and his wife Meg for an extended post-film Q&A following this exclusive, one-time-only screening of Last Week at Ed’s.

Brad Pilcher, Associate Director

Jay Myself
Jay Maisel's photography has always had a sort of visual chaos to them, a car crash of visual stimulation and detritus, blended together in equal measure. Where some artists compose images to focus the eye, Maisel seems intent on assaulting your senses with repetition and base shapes and colors. So, it's no surprise he's made a unique home out of an a 6-story former bank in the middle of Manhattan, stuffed to the brim with a lifetime of miscellany. The story of his sale and ultimate decampment from "The Bank" is as moving as his work, and it will be a delight to fans of photography and the idiosyncrasies that make an artist an "artist".

Lori Zelony, Development Director

I am a long-time admirer of Golda Meir. Golda is considered a politician trailblazer. She gained the public attention after she became the first female prime minister in Israel. To see this personal glimpse of a hero of mine is fascinating. I hope our audiences enjoy this in-depth portrayal as much as I did. I’m curious to hear the feedback from our audience!  

Danit Drory, Development Associate

Picture of His Life
There are very few people that I identify with as being adventurous and daring. That group now includes Amos Nachoum, a world-renowned photographer who has one mission, one dream that he’s dying to fulfill – to take a photograph of a polar bear underwater. Picture of His Life, a beautiful documentary telling the story of Amos’s 40-year career of capturing close and intimate photos of all aquatic life, except one, a polar bear. Award-winning filmmaker, Yonatan Nir, captures the unique relationship with man and nature. Amos Nachoum has made so many sacrifices in this endless pursuit of taking one photo. He will stop at nothing until he see it through. I admire Amos for stopping at nothing to succeed at achieving his dream.

Steve Laine, Finance Manager

Picture of His Life
Docs are my thing.  (Even spoofs on docs such as Documentary Now!)  I have one daughter that is a Marine Biology major at Georgia. Another daughter is a budding photographer. I am an aficionado of nature photography (Ansel Adams is the bomb). I have spent significant time backcountry hiking in the Arctic. Suffice it to say that I will be in the theatre for this film, it checks all the boxes for me!

Shellie Schmals, Film Programming Manager

The Mamboniks
If you love Dirty Dancing like I do, you'll enjoy taking a twirl on the dance floor with The Mamboniks. This beautifully crafted documentary by Lex Gillespie follows the rise of Afro-Cuban music and it's connection to first and second generation Jewish dancers. Along with exploring how Mamboniks defied cultural and religious lines of segregation, the film tracks both the history of Mambo music and the personalities who found joy, love and celebrity in the Mambo scene. I found myself getting lost in their storytelling, as the recalled memories of late night parties, delicious rum and hot Havana nights! 

Sara Glassberg, Programming Associate

It’s obvious to anyone who knows me that I am passionate about film above most other things in life…except for food. There aren’t a lot of films which so perfectly capture why I love food so much and what it means to me personally, that are also just really entertaining and well-made. Abe has all of those ingredients and more. While I am admittedly no chef myself, I relate to the film’s title character, played with such earnestness by Noah Schnapp of Stranger Things fame. He thinks about food the same way I do: in bringing different flavors and cultural influences together, often making something entirely new in the process, food is a lot like family. Abe’s family may be a little more complicated than most, yet the film is a testament to the power of food to illuminate our common ground and our shared humanity and to physically bring people together to share in the joy of eating. Always charming and endearing, and both emotional and hilarious, Abe may leave audiences hungry, but with their hearts full.  

Chris Holland, Event Operations Manager

Hollywood’s II World War
Our culture’s continuing fascination with World War II may have something to do with the fact that it was the first one captured in motion pictures, both documentary and fictional. This doc chronicles the lives of Hollywood filmmakers (familiar names like Billy Wilder and Frank Capra) who were conscripted to shape popular opinion about the war, and the effect their experiences on the front affected their work afterwards. An engrossing dive into the archives that any classic cinema buff will enjoy. 

Melissa Simpson, Operations Manager

Standing Up, Falling Down
As an early-thirthysomething millennial who works in film, I know a thing or two about self-doubt and the struggle of finding sustainability in a "non-traditional" career. For these reasons, Standing Up, Falling Down really resonated with me. Also, having loved Ben Schwartz on Parks and Recreation, I was blown away by the nuance and depth of his performance and the chemistry between him and the legendary Billy Crystal. While Schwartz and Crystal drive the story, the world is fully rounded by the incredible ensemble cast, each playing their own rich character. This film is full of heart and redemption, and certainly a film you won't want to miss this year at AJFF!

Leah Sitkoff, Communications Manager

Keeping the Faith
I didn’t know that this film was Edward Norton’s directorial debut until years later. Charming, bright, and bringing out the best in a wonderful ensemble cast, I never tire of this film and find that whenever it’s on, I wind up watching a great deal of it. I can’t believe it’s now a classic but it was always destined to become one.

Katherine Crosby, Community Programming Manager 

Israel’s submission for the Oscar this year, Incitement, is one of the most gripping films in the 2020 lineup. I am particularly excited for the upcoming community dialogue around the film, as filmmaker Yaron Zilberman will be joining us here in Atlanta for three of the five screenings. I have no doubt that audiences are going to be eager to unpack this film and particularly the decisions that went into the making of it.