After attending the Jewish Cinema South, a project presented by the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life, Dr. David Goldblatt initiated the Austin Jewish Film Festival (AJFF) in 2002 as part of Congregation Agudas Achim’s AgudasARTS program. The first AJFF presented five films at the Alamo Drafthouse in October of that year, opening with “Shalom Y’all,” a movie about Southern Jews. Cindy Pinto joined the festival the following year as co-chair with Goldblatt.
AJFF screened 15 films in the second year, and the festival moved to the Arbor Cinema. Since those early days, the festival has expanded to a week-long event featuring 25-30 films at multiple locations, an educational program for Jewish Sunday School students, and special quarterly events. The annual festival features both live and Skyped interviews with producers, directors, and film stars. AJFF also sponsors a free program for high school students around Austin to “make a film in a day” that trains and encourages young filmmakers, breaks down stereotypes, and builds bridges between Jewish and non-Jewish teens.
During the past 16 years, our programs have benefited from our partnerships with numerous community organizations, including the JCC’s Spotlight on the Arts and Ideas, the Down Syndrome Association of Central Texas, Austin Film Society, Austin Polish Film Festival, aGLIFF, Cine Las Americas, Alliance Française d’Austin, Texas Hillel, and Schusterman Center for Jewish Studies at UT. Our programs have featured speakers and participants from area mosques, churches, and synagogues, student organizations, and university departments.
In 2010, AJFF left the AgudasARTS program and became an independent cultural arts organization with not-for-profit status under the auspices of the JCC Austin (now Shalom Austin). We are a financially self-managed organization.
In 2015, AJFF changed leadership to Cynthia Winer and David Finkel, the current co-directors of the festival. David Goldblatt and Cindy Pinto, our founding members, remain on the Executive Board and continue to support the festival.
Shalom Austin (formerly the Jewish Community Association of Austin) is AJFF’s fiscal sponsor. Shalom Austin is located in northwest Austin on a 40-acre site, the Dell Jewish Community Campus. The campus opened in 2000 and today is home to Shalom Austin, which includes the Jewish Federation of Greater Austin, the Jewish Community Center, Jewish Family Service, and the Jewish Foundation of Austin & Central Texas. Also housed on the Campus are Austin Jewish Academy, three Jewish congregations, and an abundance of deer! The campus welcomes people of all interests and religions and hosts classes, programs, meetings, and events throughout the year that are open to all of Austin. Shalom Austin provides AJFF with leadership, financial support, marketing design, facilities, and connections with people and Jewish organizations throughout Austin, Israel, the nation, and the world.