The line for a San Francisco Jewish Film Festival screening in 2013 (Photo/from file)
The line for a San Francisco Jewish Film Festival screening in 2013 (Photo/from file)

Jewish Film Institute receives emergency grant from motion picture academy

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the organization known best for putting on the Oscar Awards, has given an emergency pandemic grant to the S.F.-based Jewish Film Institute.

Normally at this time of year, JFI would busily be preparing for the 40th year of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival. Losing this summer’s festival will be a big financial hit for the organization, said Lexi Leban, executive director of JFI.

“When we redid our vision for 2020 without the live festival, we realized we would have a pretty significant deficit by the end of the year and a cash-flow problem,” Leban said. Scheduled for July 16 to Aug. 2, the festival has been postponed at least until the fall, Leban said last month.

Though the academy has asked JFI to not reveal how much it received, Leban called the grant “very generous.” It was one of a wave of grants to 96 film-related organizations, ranging from $5,000 to $200,000, according to the academy. The grants were announced May 12.

Additionally, JFI will continue to be an Oscar-qualifying organization this year. The JFI award for best short documentary, typically given out by a jury at the festival, qualifies a film for the Oscar in that category. This year, the same jury will select a winning film from the pool of submissions for this year’s now-canceled festival.

JFI has had a relationship with the academy for 20 years.

“We were the very first Jewish film and media organization to receive funding from them,” Leban said. “They are committed to representing a diversity of artistic voices in film.”

Though the pandemic and the inability to hold the 2020 festival this summer represent a big financial loss for JFI, “We’re doing relatively well at this point,” Leban said. With a staff of only nine, JFI has not had to implement furloughs or layoffs, though the 20 to 25 seasonal staff who work on the festival won’t be hired this year.

Leban attributed her positive assessment to JFI’s year-round programming and the grants that make it possible, much of which takes place online, such as the Cinegogue Sessions, a series of online screenings and discussions launched by JFI in March.

Also helping is $25,000 from the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation, which recently announced $2.4 million of aid in its second round of emergency grants to help Bay Area Jewish organizations survive the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

According to Leban, partners and funders in the Jewish community and in the arts world are committed to making sure JFI weathers the storm.

“I am so heartened by funders telling me that when we emerge from this crisis, they don’t want to emerge to a world without art,” she said.

Other Bay Area recipients of academy grants include the Center for Asian American Media, Frameline, the S.F. International Film Festival and the S.F. Silent Film Festival. The only other Jewish organization to receive a grant is the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival.

David A.M. Wilensky
David A.M. Wilensky

David A.M. Wilensky is the digital editor of J. He can be reached at david@jweekly.com.