Susan Adler, the new executive director of Boston Jewish Film, talks to JewishBoston about her vision and plans for the newly branded organization.
What moved you to take a leadership role in an organization that supports and promotes Jewish film?
I’m Jewish, and I have always loved film, but I’m new to the professional Jewish arts and culture landscape. My experience has been in nonprofit and corporate development. Boston Jewish Film (BJF) felt like a great fit. The culture and the set-up of the BJF film team appealed to me, and the organization’s long-serving board also attracted me. It’s wonderful to work closely with people who have been dedicated to this organization for so long. The breadth of film that BJF shows, as well as what we are providing to the community, is exciting. I look forward to growing the organization and widening the audience. I want to do more of what we do so well.
Where did you work before assuming your role at BJF?
I was the director of corporate and foundation relations for Cradles to Crayons for five years. One of the many reasons I love being at BJF is because it gives me more time to spend on relationship-building and individual fundraising. I relate well to our donors, many of whom are in my demographic. I love film too. It’s exciting to interact with people familiar to me, as well as to make new connections.
What was your initial reaction to the job description?
I was looking at similar roles that I had in previous organizations, which involved working in development, and fundraising for health care. BJF presented a very different opportunity and I was excited to get back to a smaller team. It’s been exciting to learn about the background of independent film and to be exposed to perspectives of filmmakers and distributors. I’m also thrilled to invite people to participate in programs that I want to attend. We’re enhancing our year-round programming, and that challenge is wonderful as well. I love the local aspect of the job, which entails going into Boston, Somerville and Cambridge.
What is your vision for BJF?
BJF can take pride in where it has come in 31 years. We’re renowned among the film festivals, and we now have an opportunity to expand our programming and reach to a broader audience. I would like to see younger folks attending our programs. I also want to reevaluate our workflow, so I’ll be looking at how our ticketing and billing systems can be integrated. I’ve learned some lessons in working smarter that I’ve learned from my roles in larger organizations. Overall, I’d like to see us expand our year-round programming. I’ll be looking at what we can do to be even more present in the community. I’m also interested in finding new venues for our programs. I hope to look into building online communities that include blogs and podcasts. These are places where we can further create a community to talk about film.
What was the response to BJF’s first Israeli Film Festival?
I’m delighted with the enthusiastic responses we received from our recent Israeli Film Festival. We had terrific attendance that was reflected in the fact that three of the films sold out. It was a great way to engage the Israeli community and those interested in Israel. There is some fantastic work coming out of Israel in all mediums, and that is an area of growth for us.
What do you think will come out of the organization’s new branding?
The impetus behind it is to express that we are more than the Boston Jewish Film Festival. We are Boston Jewish Film with year-round programming that includes the Boston Israeli Film Festival, the ReelAbilities Film Festival and our well-known Jewish Film Festival in November. Having new branding enables us to promote the fact that our programming happens throughout the year. We want our networks to interact with us and our partners to be excited about the various film festivals. In general, the new branding gives us a greater range as Boston Jewish Film.
What are your favorite Jewish films?
One of my favorite Jewish films is “Exodus.” I loved the book, and when I saw the film it was so enlightening to see what I read, to know the history behind it and to have Paul Newman in the mix! I liked “Crossing Delancey” and “Dirty Dancing.” They are slices of life that have recognizable characters. These are movies you can relate to as they tug at the heartstrings. I haven’t had much exposure to Israeli films yet, but I liked “The Women’s Balcony.” One of the great films in our Israeli film series was “The Other Story.” Watching it felt like peeling back an onion, exposing each character and each story. “Who Will Write Our History?” made a deep impression on me as well. There are many films in the Holocaust genre, and each one is unique. Another Holocaust film I admire is “The Pianist.”
Is there anything else you would like to share with JewishBoston readers?
BJF is my first executive director role, and I’m very excited. I believe a rising tide lifts all boats, and we have a fantastic BJF team to do just that. We have excellent art direction, wonderful films and innovative programming. We’re working on creating an efficient ticketing system and solidifying our arrangements with theaters, all while tending to the backend work. Everybody’s piece is important. I’m continually learning from the BJF team as I bring some of my background and experience to this mission. Our new board president and board officers bring fresh energy and excitement to the work. And I’m thrilled to have windows in my office for the first time!
This interview has been edited and condensed.