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Jewish Film Festival goes — and will stay — virtual

In a world not ravaged by COVID-19, Joshua Abbey would be putting the finishing touches on the 20th annual Las Vegas Jewish Film Festival.

Instead, he’s launching the first entry of this year’s free monthly virtual screenings. The series has proven so successful, it’s replaced the traditional, in-person festival and will continue to do so even once the pandemic subsides.

“I doubt that I’ll ever do 10 or 12 films in January, live, again,” says Abbey, the festival’s director, marking the end of the festival as audiences have come to know it.

In April, he partnered with recent Las Vegas transplant Jeff Lipsky to present a Q&A and virtual screening of Lipsky’s 2006 Sundance film festival entry, “Flannel Pajamas.” Other movies and discussions, either with the filmmaker or an expert on the movie’s subject matter, followed every few weeks as Abbey tinkered with the concept.

The latest entry, “SNCC,” looks at the late John Lewis and other leaders of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee through the lens of photographer Danny Lyon. It’s available to screen, along with a conversation with Lyon, through Jan. 12 via a link at lvjff.org.

SNCC TRAILER from Danny Lyon on Vimeo.

“It just seems way more practical to me than trying to re-create the actual concentrated film festival virtually,” Abbey says of the monthly format.

The feedback on the virtual festival has only been positive, he says, especially from members of his core audience who are older and sometimes found it difficult to get across the city to attend traditional screenings.

“I haven’t really had any complaints. We just make it as easy and user friendly as possible,” Abbey says. “I mean, I’m sure some people would rather I be showing really corny Jewish comedies rather than tackling really serious issues, but that’s just not my bent right now.”

In addition to “SNCC,” other films in the online series have included “Shared Legacies: The African-American Jewish Civil Rights Alliance” and the documentary “Unspoken Americas: Native American Boarding Schools,” the latter of which was accompanied by a reading from U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo, a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation.

As for the future, Abbey is looking at hosting screenings of one or two high-profile films each January, with a couple of big names associated with those movies in attendance for a live discussion. He’s very much hoping it’s safe enough to begin that new chapter in 2022.

“That, to me, seems like the right P.C., post-COVID, formula,” Abbey says. “We’re in the creative arts. We should just be more creative, and figure out what needs to be done and make it work.”

The Review-Journal is owned by the family of Sheldon Adelson, who is an executive producer of the Las Vegas Jewish Film Festival.

Contact Christopher Lawrence at clawrence@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4567. Follow @life_onthecouch on Twitter.

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