Five Minutes With David Finkel, Co-Director Austin Jewish Film Festival

by Lisa Davis on October 22, 2019 in Entertainment, Film, Austin,
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The Austin Jewish Film Festival is “For Jew and You Too.”

David Finkel grew up surrounded by the rich green landscapes of Ireland where he developed an appreciation for visual arts and photography. It was only after his high school introduced personal computers that he decided to pursue his love of technology. 

Technology would take him all over the world until he landed in Austin, Texas in 1992. The globetrotter worked as an International Business Manager at Dell but, after nine years, decided to turn in his high tech computers for a digital camera and his passion for photography was reignited.

Finkel’s first gig was producing still images for the Austin Jewish Academy. He went on to produce photographs for the Jewish Outlook, Austin American-Statesman and The New York Times among others. Today, Finkel owns his own studio, David Finkel Photography.

“The Keeper” by Menemsha Films is a true story about a German soldier who becomes the goalkeeper for Manchester City after WWII. His signing causes outrage to thousands of fans, many of them Jewish, but he receives support from an unexpected direction. Photo courtesy Austin Jewish Film Festival

The Austin Jewish Film Festival (AJFF) highlights filmmaking and cross-cultural alliances in Jewish films and Jewish filmmakers and promotes cultural understanding and tolerance by presenting the best Jewish films from across the country and around the world.

The 17th Austin Jewish Film Festival’s week-long festivities and programs are
November 2nd – 8th in Austin. 

How did you first get involved with AJFF?

My first interaction with the festival was as an attendee many years ago. The picture had stopped working during a screening and I noticed Dr. David Goldblatt, the director at the time, making a panicked dash for the projection booth. Projection systems weren’t my specific area of expertise at that time, but technical problem solving was. I looked at the setup and suggested switching some cables around and, presto, the film was back on the screen. After that, I got invited to be the projectionist the following year. From there, I ended up on the committee as Technical Director before eventually become Festival Co-Director. 

“Ask Dr. Ruth” is a documentary film chronicling the life of Dr. Ruth Westheimer, a Holocaust survivor who became America’s most famous sex therapist. Photo courtesy Austin Jewish Film Festival

What do you want people to know about the AJFF?

That you don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy our movies—they are just great films! Come to the festival! 

Did you bring fresh ideas with you to AJFF?

Along with my co-director Cynthia Winer, we have made a lot of changes since we took over the reins. We’ve switched everything over to digital including live on-screen two-way videoconferencing with filmmakers and the ability to provide special support for patrons with visual disabilities. We introduced electronic ticketing, which allows for sophisticated options like multi-use passes. 

What are some highlights of this year’s festival films and events?

This year’s film festival begins opening night with Marcus H. Rosenmüller’s “The Keeper.” Films throughout the weekend include the “Ask Dr. Ruth” documentary, “Beyond the Bolex,” short films, “100 Faces” and “Finding Our Voice,” “Golda’s Balcony” followed up with a Q&A with the film’s producer David Fishelson, “The Mover,” which is the Latvian entry for the Foreign Language Oscar, and many more. Closing out the festival is the film “Tel Aviv on Fire.” We have a lot of fun activities planned for people coming out to the festival.

Menemsha Films’s “The Mover,” is the story of a blue-collar worker who embarks on a covert operation to save local Jews from Nazi persecution and certain death. Photo courtesy Austin Jewish Film Festival

Has the “For Jew and You Too” campaign increased festival awareness?

Absolutely. This is our first year of the campaign, so we won’t know the full effect until the festival is over, but … I see this as the first phase of a very exciting future for us!

Do you have specific goals in mind for the festival?

Yes – our big goal, which is underway, is to have a monthly film series so we can show more of the great films available to us on a more timely basis. This also means we can pair films with specific opportunities such as visiting filmmakers, holidays and unique events.  For instance, there is a really interesting film about the aftermath of the 1972 Munich Olympics that we may play before the summer Olympics in 2020.  

“The Other Story” from Israeli filmmaker, Avi Nesher, tells the story of two rebellious young women on wildly different paths in their lives. They cross paths unexpectedly in Jerusalem to startling consequences.
Photo courtesy Austin Jewish Film Festival

What’s your favorite Jewish film?

Boy, that’s a bit like asking me who my favorite child is!  I could give so many answers, but I’ll stick with one—the 2004 Israeli film “Ushpizin.” Perhaps it’s on my mind as it takes place during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot (Tabernacles), which is happening as I write this. I believe this was the first film made in the ultra orthodox community in Israel and stars the amazing actor Shuli Rand, who stars in one of AJFF’s films this year—“The Unorthodox”.

Cover: David Finkel, courtesy Ken Nordhauser Photography

Lisa Davis lives in Austin and is the Editorial Assistant for Texas Lifestyle Magazine and an honors graduate of Concordia University Texas with a Bachelor’s Degree in Communication and Public Relations.