"I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."
— Maya Angelou
When the Baton Rouge Jewish Film Festival co-chairmen are poring over potential movie picks, they turn to the late poet for direction, Ara Rubyan said.
"If we can find a movie that hits that target (making the viewer feel something), then that's a winner for us," he said.
Rubyan shares festival chair responsibilities with his wife, Julie Hoffman, and mother-in-law, Paula Hoffman, who started the festival in 2007 with her late husband, Harvey.
The 14th festival, which runs Wednesday-Sunday, Jan. 15-19, at the Manship Theatre, will offer four diverse films, one each on Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday nights and Sunday afternoon.
The film selection process is lengthy, Rubyan explained, with numerous film distributors promoting lots of films for the festival to consider. The team reads many film descriptions, watches trailers, and screens those that have potential.
"If we watch it all (the entire film), that puts it in the finals," he said, adding that an ad hoc committee adds their input, especially in cases of a tie.
Jewish films come in all forms: documentaries, feature films, English-speaking films, foreign language films, etc.
Korean film director Bong Joon Ho, in accepting the Golden Globe for best foreign film for "Parasite" on Sunday night, said, "Once you overcome the 1-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films."
"I thought that was a great way of putting it," Rubyan said. "We've always found a tremendous universe of films that don't come out in English."
Likewise, a film doesn't have to be produced in Israel, have an Israeli director or be in Hebrew to be a Jewish film, he said.
"It may be a story just like any other story, but it takes place in Tel Aviv, for example. It can be a slice of life with a universal theme," he said.
On the other end of the spectrum are films with a World War II backdrop or ones about the Holocaust.
"We try not to pick films that are straight-up educational. What I'm interested in is a movie that people feel some connection with," Rubyan said.
"The movies are like a machine that generates empathy," late Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic Roger Ebert once said.
"You see something of yourself in the story that you're watching," Rubyan added.
This year, the film festival audience, which usually numbers around 1,000 people, will be watching "The Museum" at 7 p.m. Wednesday; "The Unorthodox," 7 p.m. Thursday; "Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles," 7:30 p.m. Saturday; and "Redemption," 3 p.m. Sunday.
After the screening of "The Museum," which explores the prestigious Israel Museum, there will be a talk by Howard Hoffman, executive director of the soon-to-open Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience in New Orleans. Hoffman is Rubyan's brother-in-law.
"'The Unorthodox' depicts the 1980s formation of an upstart Israeli party representing the interests of Sephardic Jews," according to the film synopsis. The "Fiddler" documentary features 60 interviews with cast and crew members, scholars and spectators about the risky musical turned Broadway blockbuster. Sunday's finale, the drama "Redemption," revolves around a widower and single father who is a modern-day Job.
Tickets are $11.50 per movie at manshiptheatre.org/events/film, with free tickets and other discounts available by joining the BRJFF VIP Movie Club at BRJFF.com. Find out more about the festival's other educational initiatives at the website as well.
"If you're the kind of person who's tired of the multiplex, comic-book, superhero-sequel endless train of movies; if you like independent film, this is one of the prime venues at the Manship that will show films that you won't see anywhere else," Rubyan said.
Baton Rouge Jewish Film Festival
Five films over five days as part of the 14th annual festival
WHEN: 7 p.m. Jan. 15, 16, 18, 3 p.m. Jan. 19
WHERE: Manship Theatre in the Shaw Center for the Arts, 100 Lafayette St.
TICKETS/INFO: $11.50 per movie, manshiptheatre.org/events/film