Today we’d like to introduce you to Igor Shteyrenberg.
Igor, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
My tenure as the Executive Director of the Miami Jewish Film Festival started six years ago. For the better part of its 16 years, the Festival was a niche event serving a little over 3,000 attendees at three venues in Miami. During my first year of leadership I was confident there was far greater potential for growth. Having worked at the Miami International Film Festival and the Coral Gables Art Cinema years before, I knew Miami was experiencing a flourishing arts scene and that film was a key catalyst for this resurgence. There were more arthouse theaters open in Greater Miami, a passionate audience, and accompanying this perfect storm was a new wave of talent creating unique and internationally prized Israeli and Jewish interest films. We were fortunate to recognize this renaissance and directly tap into it, creating a cultural bridge that fostered the next generation of filmmakers and artists.
In that first year, we more than doubled our audience to 9,500 — and each successive Festival edition saw significant year over year growth. Today, the Miami Jewish Film Festival serves nearly 30,000 film lovers and has become a key destination event for the international film community: it’s the fastest growing film festival in the state of Florida and one of the three largest Jewish film festivals in the world.
Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
The process of revitalizing the Miami Jewish Film Festival from just another niche festival on the circuit to a beacon for great cinema did not come easy, For the Festival to reach its true potential and be on the world map, it required a total re-branding and a re-networking with the international film community. We started by shaping a new vision for the Festival’s program, determining that we didn’t want to be just another stop for films on their national tours. We were determined to scour the globe for the best films that no one was talking about. To do so, we needed to connect with industry contacts and inspire them to share our belief in the Festival and its limitless possibilities. It was a great undertaking, but one that has paid off with great dividends.
In my first year, we secured the premiere of a little-known film at the time called IDA, directed by brilliant Polish filmmaker Pawel Pawlikowski, whose earlier films I had an admiration for. Almost as soon as the film premiered at the Festival, it was nominated for the Academy Award, and to everyone’s joyous surprise, went on to win the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. We were thrilled! And the industry quickly recognized what made our program so distinctly special was our ability to present undiscovered gems. We set a new bar for excellence and in just six years, the Miami Jewish Film Festival has become a gateway for the best international Jewish interest and Israeli films, which US film distributors and international sales reps have all embraced.
A great example is the story of Ferenc Török’s 1945. After a long, almost uncertain struggle to secure it for the Festival’s milestone 20th edition, the director committed to world premiering the film at the Miami Jewish Film Festival instead of the Berlin Film Festival, which was unheard of at the time. It was an incredible triumph for us and a wise decision by the film’s team, as it ultimately tremendously paid off for them. Leading up to the film’s premiere, it was picked up for distribution right out of our Festival, went on to win our Audience Award, ran in the festival circuit for two years, received incredible critical acclaim, and an eventual theatrical release that has totaled over one million dollars to date.
The success of 1945 is joined by a long list of films that were discovered at the Miami Jewish Film Festival, among them, are The Search for Israeli Cuisine, The Women’s Balcony, The Light of Hope, and most recently The Cakemaker and the made in Miami film, The Last Resort. This year, 12 feature films will be receiving their world premiere in a Festival lineup that features over 80 films, an unprecedented record which we’re excited to unveil to the world. It is a reflection of what the Miami Jewish Film Festival has accomplished over the past years in becoming a world-class destination event and providing audiences with an unparalleled opportunity to experience film amid the national beauty of our beloved city.
Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Miami Jewish Film Festival – what should we know?
The Miami Jewish Film Festival has come a long way in a very short period of time. During the six years of my leadership as Executive Director, we have set a standard for being highly selective in choosing fresh, standout new work to bring to the Festival that epitomizes our focus on original storytelling. This year is no exception. We have, as always, focused on creating a program that is as deep and broad as the interests and passions of our unique audience in Miami. We have further expanded our efforts to share new voices and talents with our audience by bringing in a wide array of emerging filmmakers working across a vast landscape of styles and topics in Jewish interest and Israeli cinema. From this year’s Spotlight on Women Filmmakers, our outdoor screening series at the Miami Beach SoundScape, to our live interdisciplinary performances accompanying several noteworthy film premieres, the Festival is committed to both deepen and expand our relationships with the most exciting, and, in many cases, as yet undiscovered, new voices in international and independent cinema. We couldn’t be more excited about this year’s Festival program — its diversity and artistic uniqueness will delight, surprise, and reward those who share our passion for exploring cinema in all its forms.
Do you feel luck has played a role in your life?
There are thousands of movies produced every year and the opportunity to find the next great film is not as easy as one would think. Before a film has distribution and a whole marketing campaign around it, it is just an unknown title like so many others vying for an opportunity to shine. The Miami Jewish Film Festival annually receives over 1,500 film submissions for a lineup that features just 80 films. On top of these submissions, there are over 500 additional movies that we need to screen at film festivals or are pitched by filmmakers, producers, sales reps, and distributors. It is an impossible task to make sure we don’t overlook anything. You can call it luck, but it feels almost like a miracle each year that we are able to whittle down these thousands of film entries into a program that has the capacity to inspire a true sense of wonder.
- Admission for all general screenings is $14
- The Premier Badge providing an all-access Festival experience is $295
- Website: www.miamijewishfilmfestival.org
- Phone: 305-573-7304
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MiamiJewishFilmFestival
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