JFilm’s declaration of independence means funding freedom

JFilm’s declaration of independence means funding freedom

The Audience Award winner for best documentary at this year’s JFilm Festival was “Above and Beyond,” produced by Nancy Spielberg.	 (Photo provided by JFilm)
The Audience Award winner for best documentary at this year’s JFilm Festival was “Above and Beyond,” produced by Nancy Spielberg. (Photo provided by JFilm)

JFilm, currently a division of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, has filed an application with the commonwealth to become an independent nonprofit corporation.

Its anticipated independence from the Federation will allow JFilm to seek funding from more diverse sources, according to Iris Samson, chair of JFilm’s current committee and upcoming chair of the organization’s new board of directors.

“We are a small arts organization,” Samson said. “By becoming our own independent arts foundation, we can go after different arts funders. That will be the biggest benefit to becoming our own independent arts organization. It will give us a lot more freedom.”

At the core of JFilm’s enterprise is an annual independent film festival, but the organization runs several additional programs each year designed to enrich understanding of Jewish culture.

Samson noted that JFilm continues to add new programming to its docket on a regular basis. That programming includes a second annual film festival, ReelAbilities, which presents films and events that showcase the lives, stories and artistic expressions of individuals with disabilities; the Robinson Short Film International Competition, which awards cash prizes for documentary, narrative and animated shorts; and Teen Screen, which reaches about 4,000 local students and teachers a year, exposing them to films at venues outside of the school setting to enhance their understanding of Holocaust history, social justice and tolerance.

“Every year, we seem to take on more programming,” Samson observed, attributing the organization’s expansion to its

executive director, Kathryn Spitz Cohan.

“I think if we can get our hands on more funds, we can only expand in a positive manner, which we have done up to this point,” said Samson.  

She said the move to become independent from Federation was not motivated “because of any kind of discord, but because we are continuing to grow, and this allows us to grow in areas we couldn’t before.”

In addition to Samson, JFilm’s board will be comprised of Estelle Comay, Norton Gusky, Eileen Lane, Dodie Roskies, Marian Salamon, Alison Shapiro and David Sufrin. Spitz Cohan anticipates adding additional board members, she said, and JFilm’s volunteer committee of more than 40 people will stay intact.

The move to become independent of Federation “is less of a separation and more of an evolution,” Spitz Cohan said. “Our leadership and their leadership have been talking about this for two years.”

JFilm was launched 24 years ago and is now heading into its 23rd film festival, Spitz Cohan said.

“This feels like the next logical step for this organization. We have a great relationship with Federation, and we will continue it.”

The Federation is supportive of the move, said Adam Hertzman, the Federation’s director of marketing.

“JFilm already raises most of its own money and has been running very independently of Federation as time goes on,” he said. “This made a ton of sense to us.”

Becoming independent will allow JFilm to “focus on its core mission [and also] solidify new partnerships.”

Toby Tabachnick can be reached at tobyt@thejewishchronicle.net.

read more: