"One of the nice things about directing a film festival is, if you submit something it's probably not going to get rejected," jokes Las Vegas Jewish Film Festival founder and director Joshua Abbey, whose new documentary Live to Bear Witness will play at this year's event.
Abbey, who has run LVJFF for nearly 20 years, has certainly earned the right to showcase his own work, which is all about documenting the vibrancy of the local Jewish community. "I've been pretty much focused on individuals who have historical significance in the development of our community, and holding them up as exemplars of what we all should aspire to, to contribute to the social welfare and cultural infrastructure, to help better us all," Abbey says of his films.
The 30-minute Live to Bear Witness features six local Holocaust survivors asking questions about the historical importance and contemporary relevance of the Holocaust. "They're asking in a separate location, and then I'm cutting to students, roughly 15-to-20-year-olds, in the age range where they should know something about the Holocaust, and then they answer the questions spontaneously, without being prepared for them," Abbey explains. He hopes that by talking directly with young people in the film, he can better reach their peers with his message. "I think they're more likely to listen to people their own age talking about it," he says.
The film plays in conjunction with A Promise to Our Fathers, another 30-minute documentary on the legacy of the Holocaust, from local producer Gene Greenberg, who will join Abbey for a discussion.
Other films in this year's festival lineup include two from Israeli director Dani Menkin, who will be on hand to discuss his documentaries Picture of His Life (about nature photographer Amos Nachoum) and Aulcie (about former Israeli basketball player Aulcie Perry, who will also be in attendance). Continuing Abbey's personal connection, the festival will also show the documentary Wrenched, about the Earth First environmental movement, which was inspired in part by the writings of Abbey's father, Edward Abbey. "Although my dad wasn't Jewish, including a film about him makes sense, because without him there probably wouldn't be a Jewish film festival in Las Vegas," Abbey says.
In keeping with the festival's tradition of reaching out beyond the Jewish community, this year will feature documentary Joachim Prinz: I Shall Not Be Silent, about a rabbi and activist who worked alongside Martin Luther King Jr., presented on Martin Luther King Jr. Day by the Anti-Defamation League; and the Mexican drama Leona, showing at the Maya Cinemas in North Las Vegas and moderated by local rabbi Felipe Goodman, a native of Mexico City. "That's kind of the impetus, to broaden the audience to be appealing and inclusive for all members of the community," Abbey says. He has spent the last two decades making those connections, turning LVJFF into one of the Valley's strongest community events.
IF YOU GO Las Vegas Jewish Film Festival January 9-26, days & times vary, free. Multiple locations, lvjff.org.