Film Pittsburgh readies for digital-only festival

Film Pittsburgh readies for digital-only festival

Kathryn Spitz Cohan confident after year of virtual programming

Kathryn Spitz Cohan. Photo by Nathan J Shaulis, Porter Loves.
Kathryn Spitz Cohan. Photo by Nathan J Shaulis, Porter Loves.

Movie theaters are largely vacant but the shows still go on.

With days remaining until the 28th annual JFilm Festival, Kathryn Spitz Cohan is touting an “all-star lineup” of films and a first-rate online experience. The 18 international feature films, which come from countries including Denmark, Israel and Italy, address issues of tolerance, culture and universality.

Between the Jewish-themed movies, post-screening discussions and opportunities to vote on festival favorites, Film Pittsburgh’s April 22-May 2 online event should be largely familiar, even without in-person attendance in theaters.

Spitz Cohan, Film Pittsburgh’s executive director, said she wishes the festival could be enjoyed in person, but understands the need to distance.

“This is my 20th season and the fact that I don’t get to see people, and hug people and talk to them about the films is breaking my heart,” she said. “It’s something I really look forward to every year.”

Even so, there are ways for JFilm participants to connect. In addition to a mix of recorded and live online programs, an opening night Zoom party will give festival-goers a chance to chat with JFilm staff and other participants.

“I and the rest of the staff really miss them,” said Spitz Cohan. “The film crowd is special — many of them have been there with me every year since I’ve been there.”

Helen Eaton and Dr. Paul Caplan attended the opening night festivities for the 2018 JFilm Festival at the SouthSide Works Cinema. Photo by Adam Reinherz

Since joining JFilm two decades ago, Spitz Cohan has partnered with staff and volunteers to build the in-person festival experience by selecting top-notch movies and hosting discussions. When last year’s festival was mostly canceled due to COVID-19, Spitz Cohan paused before shifting Film Pittsburgh’s work online.

“I said, ‘I don’t want to be Netflix. I don’t want to be virtual,’ but then we did the Re-Imagined JFilm Festival, and it was so successful that it really made me believe that we could do a virtual festival,” said Spitz Cohan.

Last spring’s daily online events and the 2020 Fall Festival, which was also held online, convinced Spitz Cohan of the need to provide programming to people at home and confirmed that Film Pittsburgh could do so effectively. In recent months, the organization retooled its website and platform so viewers could easily purchase festival passes, watch films and participate in virtual programs. The upcoming festival reflects that commitment to integrating technology and providing festival participants an enjoyable viewing experience, explained Spitz Cohan.

Given the ability to watch films at one’s convenience throughout the festival, she hopes that JFilm-goers may increase their movie consumption.

Even after in-person programming resumes, an online option will remain, she said.

“We’re lucky that we get to continue doing what we do,” said Spitz Cohan. “Thanks for hanging in there with us.” PJC

Adam Reinherz can be reached at

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