Jewish Film – What is it? An Approach Through Festival Programs and Reception Attitudes

Junior research group at Postdoc Network Brandenburg

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Jewish film is a young interdisciplinary field of research between Jewish studies and film and media studies, the boundaries, and definitions of which are currently the subject of controversial academic debates, especially in the English-speaking world. Regardless, film cultural practices produce the object of Jewish film through the distribution and reception of films as 'Jewish' and increasingly establish it. This is evidenced by the growing number of Jewish film festivals worldwide as well as Jewish film days and film clubs. In their program work, reflections on the matter of Jewish film from the practical side are taking place, hitherto largely unconsidered by academic debate.

In contrast to debates that seek to define the object, a broad understanding lends itself to research and teaching that sees Jewish film primarily as an interface of scientific disciplines and less as a definable object. In this context of 'Judaism and film', distribution and reception constitute only one of three sub-areas, alongside issues of representation and stakeholder-centered perspectives. 

The junior research group What is Jewish Film? aims to establish the research area of Jewish film, still in its infancy in the German-speaking world, in all its diversity at the research location Potsdam as a transdisciplinary cooperation between media studies (Film University) and Jewish studies (University of Potsdam). For this purpose, teaching cooperations, colloquia, workshops and transfer projects to the extramural public are planned. Another objective is the networking of academics in this field and the cooperation with relevant non-academic stakeholders. 

The research activities of the group, however, clearly focus on the (least researched) sub-area of distribution and reception and, through this, approach the question of what is considered Jewish film. In doing so, historical as well as cultural differences become apparent, for example in the Jewish film festivals, which constitute an important research focus for the junior research group: while the first Jewish film festivals emerged in the USA in the 1980s out of the Jewish communities in order to provide different offerings for their own community and thus create new opportunities for discussion, in Germany and Europe they primarily address non-Jewish audiences, who are given insights into Jewish realms of experience that are often largely foreign to these audiences. Exploring such implicit and explicit objectives as well as the effects of the addressed audiences on the programming of the festivals is part of the junior research group's research perspectives. Here, other Jewish film festivals in Europe can be drawn upon as comparative templates in addition to the American and German ones. Overall, the still emerging film festival research has so far not or hardly addressed Jewish film festivals, which by now have achieved a considerable presence in the USA with more than 200 festivals, and also enjoy increasing popularity in Germany. Their academic study and classification based on distinguishing criteria – such as size measured in terms of films shown, audience numbers and reach, as well as the programming of the films, which in turn can be classified according to genres, topics or the audiences addressed – will form the focus of the junior research group's work.