On the eve of the 17th annual Miami Jewish Film Festival (MJFF), director Igor Shteyrenberg talks Woody Allen and Ida.

The festival is scheduled to run from January 23 through February 3.

How was the festival established?
The Miami Jewish Film Festival  was first organised in 1998 by the initiative of a core group of volunteers who strongly believed that Miami deserved to have its own Jewish Film Festival. The first few years of the festival were run through the Miami Beach JCC, but as it quickly grew and gained recognition, the Center For The Advancement Of Jewish Education (a subsidiary of the Greater Miami Jewish Federation), lent its support by making it a core project of its programming.

It is a festival based on a solid foundation of cultural commitment to the community, and its programming and platform are designed to engage the public with diverse and award-winning films about Jewish culture, arts, and lifestyle.

For 17 years, MJFF has been an integral part of Miami’s vibrant cultural community, attracting the best talent and films from all over the world, and ensuring they have the greatest level of exposure and opportunity to share their work.

You become director in July 2013. What is your background?
I graduated from the University Of Southern California, School Of Cinematic Arts. In 2012 I worked at Coral Gables Art Cinema, one of the nation’s premier arthouse venues. Last year I worked at the Miami International Film Festival alongside the executive director, Jaie Laplante, a mentor and friend.

What makes the festival special?
The unique geographic location of the greater Miami area and the large Jewish population in the community makes it a natural gateway for Jewish interest films. MJFF promotes itself as a destination event, encouraging visitors and residents to enjoy both the festival programme and the many other attractions that Miami and the beaches have to offer.

What new initiatives/programmes are there?
Since signing on as the director this past summer, I made a sincere effort to revitalise and further the growth of the festival. 2014 marks a new ambitious evolution in MJFF as it expands its programming and dates, and presents events in multiple venues throughout the Miami community. As well, we launched a new year-round programme that has already seen over a dozen premiere screenings and events, almost all of which were sold out and completely at capacity.

What are some of the anticipated highlights?
We are proud to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Woody Allen’s beloved comedy Broadway Danny Rose, which we will be presenting in a gorgeous 35mm print on the exact day it premiered 30 years ago. 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.

We are also honoured to present Pawel Pawlikowski’s Ida, one of the most beautiful and deeply moving films in our programme. It’s an achingly intimate elegy for his homeland and a poetic exploration of the limits of faith that is certainly not without controversy. As well, we will host the Florida Premiere of Israel’s official Oscar entry, Bethlehem, which swept six Ophir Awards (Israeli Oscars) this past year. It’s a raw and gripping thriller about the complex relationship between an Israeli Secret Service officer and his teenage Palestinian informant. Both Ida and Bethlehem have already sold out their screenings at the festival, and we are still just weeks away from their presentations.

Tell us about the first family day
Our first annual Family Day will showcase some of the most extraordinary family friendly films that have wooed audiences around the world. 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 to kids.

Other notable films presented during our Family Day will be the Florida Premiere of the touching and joyous Igor & the Cranes’ Journey, the Israeli box office smash hit Hunting Elephants starring Sir Patrick Stewart, and the award-winning closing night film The Zigzag Kid starring Isabella Rossellini.