New Miami Jewish Film Festival Director Igor Shteyrenberg: 2014 Films Will "Punch the Wind Out of You"

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For the first time in ten years, the Miami Jewish Film Festival has a new director, and though opening night for the 17th Annual MJFF has yet to arrive, Igor Shteyrenberg has wasted no time in holding screenings. Since he accepted the job in July of 2013, Shteyrenberg has hosted 16 screenings and events ahead of the festival.

"This has been a triumphant revitalizing year for the festival and for the Miami film-going community," he says. "We launched a uniquely aggressive year-round program that has already seen over a dozen premiere screenings and events take place, most of which were sold out and completely at capacity."

The extra dose of awareness seems to be paying off. Not long after the festival line-up was announced last month, the opening night film, When Comedy Went to School, sold out. Shteyrenberg has high hopes for his first year as the director of the MJFF, which will host 24 feature screenings and six short films over a period of 10 days across five Miami-Dade County venues. He says, "2014 has been a ground-breaking year for the Miami Jewish Film Festival. From expanding our dates to presenting events in multiple venues throughout the Miami community, these changes have lifted MJFF into the top tier of film festivals."

The 29-year-old is the festival's youngest ever director and brings experience from having worked at the Miami International Film Festival and an education in movies at the graduate level from the University of Southern California. As a general fan of film and a Jew, Shteyrenberg understands the gentile reticence in attending a film festival described as "Jewish." However, the Jewish experience has always been about so much more than religion. "We have put together a program that will appeal to every kind of movie lover," he states, "from exciting new American Indies to the best international films and eye-opening documentaries, to family films, thrillers, award-winning short films, and so much more."

Probably the bit of programming Shteyrenberg is most excited about putting together is a 35mm screening of Woody Allen's Broadway Danny Rose with a special guest host. "[It] will be shown 30 years ago to the day when it originally premiered," he notes. "Without a shadow of a doubt, it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see this classic comedy on the big screen in the best 35mm print available in the world. And to top it all off, Oscar-nominated director Whit Stillman (Metropolitan, Barcelona, Damsels in Distress) will be hosting the event, and providing an introduction and extended conversation after the screening."

Many films at this year's festival feature notable heavy-hitters in the contemporary world of cinema. "[There's] the Israeli box office smash hit Hunting Elephants starring Patrick Stewart, and the award-winning closing night film The Zigzag Kid starring Isabella Rossellini," notes Shteyrenberg.

There's even an appearance by Fievel the mouse, during a free screening for the family of An American Tail. "We are excited about our First Annual Family Day on Sunday, February 2, which will showcase some of the most extraordinary films that have wooed audiences around the world," says the Shteyrenberg. "It will be a day of fun and delightful entertainment for the whole family, beginning with a free screening of the heartwarming film An American Tail, with popcorn and soda also provided for free."

When it comes to the big picture, Shteyrenberg hopes to also offer films that challenge the audience and illuminate our relationship with the world beyond cinema. "Movies reflect who we are," he says, "and this year's program offers unique insights into the world today and past history. No doubt there will be some filmic experiences that will feel like someone had punched the wind out of you, like the raw and gripping Israeli thriller Bethlehem or the erotically charged World War II drama Closed Season. But such is the evocative mystery of art that the festival champions."

The Miami Jewish Film Festival runs from January 23 to February 3. Venues for screenings include Frank Theaters Intracoastal, O Cinema Miami Shores, the Miami Beach Cinematheque, Bill Cosford Cinema and the Regal Cinemas South Beach. Tickets are available through this link: Miami Jewish Film Festival Schedule.

Follow Hans Morgenstern on Twitter @HansMorgenstern.

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