Peace in the Middle East may seem impossible, but in Central Indiana? Definitely doable. That was local attorney Bob Epstein’s thinking, more or less, as he organized the inaugural Indianapolis Jewish Film Festival, coming May 3–10 to a church, school, library, and theater near you. “It’s geared to appeal to the community at large,” he says. “Sure, there will be a little about Jewish culture, a little about the problems Jewish people have had, but also plenty about reconciliation among people of different faiths.”
About a year ago, Epstein looked around the country and realized there are about 60 Jewish film festivals—even one in South Bend—but that Indianapolis had never had one. So he called a group of people, primarily from a relatively new Carmel temple called Congregation Beth Shalom; brought in a film consultant; and previewed about 80 titles before selecting the final nine. Festival organizers also talked to folks at the Heartland Film Festival and the Arts Council of Indianapolis for advice on how to deal with the usual challenges—like getting the rights to show films, securing sponsors, and finding locations for screenings. Epstein solved the last one in a particularly creative way, bringing the Christian Theological Seminary and Light of the World Christian Church on board to act as venues. And he made the screenings more than just glorified movie nights. The CTS event will include a panel of religious clerics discussing gays and religion, and an Ethiopian family will speak at Light of the World about the film being shown there.
Epstein, whose favorite films include Citizen Kane and Doctor Zhivago, describes himself as “big on interfaith matters.” He grew up in a small New Jersey town with a father—a 1924 Indiana University graduate and community leader—who professed that “we have to get along with everybody,” then moved to Indiana for school (Franklin College, IU Law). Over the decades, he has traveled to some 75 countries and been the legal representative for the Egyptian Coptic church, Muslims, Hindus, the Dalai Lama’s brother, and a few African churches. The best way to bring people together, Epstein says, is to be positive. That’s why, at least at this first festival, there will be no Holocaust film. Maybe at next year’s event, though. (He likes Voyage of the Damned.) “We’re trying to touch as many different people as possible this year,” he says. “We want to develop an institution, so this is a fairly conservative start.”
This article appeared in the May 2014 issue.