News Column

Film festival director screens ideas; She has hands full for Ephraim Jewish festival slated in January.

November 1, 2013


Ellen Wedner is brimming with ideas for Palm Beach County's Jewishfilm festival. How about year-round programming? A mini-fest ofart-related films? A summer series? Screenings pinned to HolocaustRemembrance Day? A local edition of ReelAbilities: N.Y.Disabilities Film Festival?

But for now, Wedner has her hands full getting the 24th annualfestival up and running. She has spent the summer winding down herother business commitments and easing into her new job as directorof The Donald M. Ephraim Palm Beach Jewish Film Festival.

The festival, Florida's largest Jewish Film Festival, will unspool33 films in 59 screenings Jan. 16-26 at anchor theaters the CobbDowntown 16 in Palm Beach Gardens and the Frank Theatres CineBowl &Grille in Delray Beach, as well as the Kravis Center and the NortonMuseum.

Wedner has good news. The festival has received a $1 million giftfrom Ephraim, which it's recognized by renaming the event.

"I'm the envy of all the festival directors," she said.

Ephraim, a retired entertainment attorney who fondly recallstagging along with clients Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert to pressscreenings, is a board member of the Mandel JCC of the PalmBeaches, which produces the festival. A resident of Chicago andPalm Beach Gardens, he has served on the festival's screeningcommittee and advisory board for six years.

Wedner has more than a decade of experience running film festivals.From 2003 to 2013, she directed the Miami Jewish Film Festival. Shecreated two other Miami-based festivals, KidFlix and the Miami Gayand Lesbian Film Festival, and directed the 2010 Fire Island PinesFilm Festival in New York. She owns a special events marketing andmanagement company based in Miami. Earlier in her career, sheworked in sales and as a producer in the broadcast industry.

Wedner, who has homes in Miami and Boca Raton, said she waspersuaded to change jobs by the Palm Beach group's commitment togrowing the festival.

"They have charged me with growing it into an even bigger event,"she said.

The vivacious redhead has made a good first impression.

"She comes in with a smile on her face and wonderful choices formovies," said Vivian Lemelman, who heads one of the festival's twoscreening committees.

"She comes with great qualifications," Ephraim said. "I have highhopes."

Wedner would like to dispel the misconception that Jewish filmfestivals are fixated on the Holocaust. While that's an importantpart of the Jewish experience, the Palm Beach festival isinternational in scope and should appeal to people of all faithsand ages, she said.

"I don't want anyone to feel they have to be Jewish to attend thesefilms," she said.

She brought a solid knowledge of the industry and sound business tothe Miami festival, chairman Gary Birnberg said. Among the changesshe instituted were an improved ticketing system, better publicrelations and an upgraded website, said Roberta Shevin, who hiredWedner for the Miami job.

"She always had her eye on a more professional way to run things,"Shevin said. Because of her late start, Wedner doesn't plan majorchanges for the upcoming Palm Beach festival. The most obvious isher decision to screen most movies in both host venues. In themeantime, she's been getting to know the community and promotingthe festival.

"I am available at the drop of a hat to speak anywhere," she said."I'm passionate about film."

-- jsjostrom@

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