From humble beginnings, the Sacramento Jewish Film Festival has grown into a major West Coast cultural event, showcasing films of all kinds from around the world. Behind the scenes of this success are two Harpur College alumni: Margi Park-Landau ’71, who co-founded and ran the festival for 18 years, and her successor, Teven Laxer ’70.
After graduating in French from Harpur, Park-Landau went on to earn her master’s degree in health education from Columbia University. She moved to Sacramento in 1981, where she worked in public health and helped resettle refugees from Southeast Asia following the Vietnam War.
But she missed New York’s vibrant Jewish cultural and arts scene. Sacramento’s Jewish community was small at the time and lacked a community center and other more typical home amenities.
“I wanted to bring a bit of home here,” she said. “I thought, ‘Let me create a cultural event that will bring Jews together.’”
She led the festival in partnership with the former manager of the Crest Theater in downtown Sacramento. A historic art house, Crest already hosted many film festivals on a variety of themes, from French films to local filmmakers.
The Sacramento Jewish Film Festival began in 1997 with a single film, presented at the Sacramento Festival of Cinema: A tickle in the heart, about the Epstein brothers, a trio of legendary klezmer musicians. The festival spun off into its own act two years later and is now one of the top film festivals in the Sacramento area.
In 2018, the film festival affiliated with the Sacramento-area Jewish Federation. Before the coronavirus pandemic, the event lasted four to five days, showed a dozen films and also included catered receptions, live music and dancing, Laxer said.
Given the pandemic, the 2022 festival – which runs from March 1-21 – will be mostly virtual, with 34 feature films and 14 short films from 17 different countries. Three feature films will be screened in person at a community theater, with the others streamed online. The festival will also include talks, presentations, live music and more; learn more about sacjewishfilmfest.org.
“Our Sacramento Jewish Film Festival captures the vibrancy of Jewish life, history, art and culture from around the world,” Park-Landau said. “These powerful stories and images serve to unite our community, overcome stereotypes and promote both Shalom/peace as well as Tikkun Olam/fix the world.”
An anthropology graduate, Laxer enjoyed Harpur’s variety of cultural events during his college years; as a student union board member, he was able to dine with Judy Collins in 1968 and meet the Grateful Dead during their famous campus visit in 1970. After moving to Sacramento in 1972, he held an outdoor summer film festival at the food co-op and, later, the La Semilla Cultural Center, which offered films, plays, concerts and poetry readings.
Although they only met briefly, the two alumni were on campus during a turbulent and dynamic time in Harpur’s history: the 1960s. Laxer attended anti-war protests in New York and Washington, DC, at this time, including a massive march in Binghamton after the shooting in Kent State.
After graduating from Harpur, he had a 40-year career in labor relations, including union organizing, negotiation, politics and legislation. His most memorable events include negotiating the first private sector contract in the country that offered health benefits to domestic partners and drafting a bill providing emergency social benefits for victims of domestic violence.
In addition to being director of the Jewish Film Festival, Laxer sits on the board of the Jewish Community Relations Committee. He is also the librarian of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Sacramento and sits on the Public Records Access Monitoring Committee of the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Associations. He was also a founding member of TICVA – The Israel Civil Voice Alliance.
“We are delighted to present captivating films from around the world. Some movies will make you laugh, some will make you cry,” Laxer said. “We hope our films inform, inspire and create a sense of community.”