This week, JFilm, the Pittsburgh Jewish Film Forum, will host the annual ReelAbilities Film Festival. In preparation for this event, Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council intern Eseosa Azenabor met with JFilm’s Executive Director Kathryn Spitz Cohan (center, above).
GPAC: Tell us about your organization - what exactly do you do?
KSC: Our proper name is JFilm: The Pittsburgh Jewish Film Forum but we go by JFilm for short. We originally started as a film festival in 1994 and since that time the organization has grown tremendously. In 2009, we officially became a year-round organization and we continue to grow and add programming. Our annual film festivals are the Reel Abilities Film Festival and the Annual Jewish Film Festival. We also offer an international short film competition called Robinson Competition where we give away $18,000 in cash prizes for the winning films. We also have outreach programs called Teen Screen and Brave Miss World on Campus.
GPAC: What are you working on now?
KSC: We are currently getting ready for the Reel Abilities Film Festival which begins October 22nd at Rodef Shalom Congregation and the Human Engineering and Research Laboratory in Bakery Square. We chose these locations because of their high wheel-chair accessibility.The festival is a disabilities-themed event and all the films have to do with people with different disabilities - not a Jewish theme. We partnered with the FISA Foundation on this project, an organization that supports themes of disabilities, women, and girls.
GPAC: What GPAC resources have you been able to utilize?
KSC: GPAC has been very helpful to us in terms of feeling part of the arts community. Specifically, they have provided us with Business Volunteers in the Arts which helped us facilitate an executive leadership retreat. Also through GPAC, we received a grant that enabled us to implement a new Customer Relations Management system. Not only did GPAC assist in the funding of that contract, but they also oversaw that whole process. I also very much enjoy the information that GPAC imparts, the studies they do. I also enjoy the socializing and networking along with the financial support they provide.
GPAC: How can people connect with you? (Web, Facebook, Twitter, etc.)
KSC: We have a very active volunteer committee which is involved in aspects of the education programs. We have a website. Reel Abilities is on Facebook, here. JFilm on Facebook and our Twitter handle.
GPAC: What is your creative process?
KSC: We curate a lot of films here. As a small organization, we all do a little bit of everything. I believe film, like all art, is a wonderful way to go beyond entertainment. I look for an angle in the film that helps us move forward as a people- to be better and think about something in a different light. Also, one of the reasons that JFilm has been so successful is because we put an emphasis on quality. We preview every film and are very intentional in the selection of the films that we’re going to show.
GPAC: What are some of your organization’s creative influences?
KSC: My background is in theatre and that has really influenced my perspective on film. I’m a visual person and this has been my world since I was a small child. Also, I have four additional part-time colleagues, they all happen to be women, and they are fabulous! We have the best team and I’m really lucky to work with such great people.