Let My People Go - to the Movies

No gratuitous violence, no blatant sex, minimal profanity. Must be a very short film festival.

Passing the big-screen screening process at The Phoenix Jewish Film Festival is no simple task. Shel Pierson and his wife, Phyllis, who co-founded the fest nine years ago, devour a steady diet of movies, passing 40 to 50 films per year to a 10-person committee.

"A great many of the people that come to our films are grayheads," Pierson says. "So we have to be careful about what we show them." Forget the children -- someone think of the old folks!

For Phoenix's oldest film fest, selectivity equals success. The eighth annual installment gets rolling this weekend, boasting three venues and a growing list of sponsors.

"The festival has grown from only two participants in the first festival in 1996 to 13 Valleywide participants this year," according to publicity chair Jules Rossman.

They may not get carded at the theater, but the forces behind the festival are certainly hip to the scene. Seven of the fest's eight films date from the last couple of years, and it's a worldly roster, representing Israel, France, Hungary, Romania, Canada and the United States. "Ours is really a foreign film festival, with Jewish content," Pierson says.

And that content can get pretty heavy: immigration struggles, the formation of Israel, the Holocaust.

"What we try to do is provide thought-provoking ideas," explains Pierson. "Then, after the film, we always have a discussion leader who will discuss the film and answer questions." Opening night's guest should have special insight: Rob Labelle, star of The Burial Society, is set to lead the Q&A following the film.

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Jill Koch
Contact: Jill Koch