Igor Shteyrenberg knew from a young age that film was his calling.
Shteyrenberg, 29, is the new director of the Miami Jewish Film Festival (MJFF) that will show 29 films, including 11 Florida premieres, from Thursday to Feb. 3 at various theaters, including opening night at Miami Shores’ O Cinema, Bill Cosford Cinema in Coral Gables and Regal Cinemas South Beach.
As the grandson of Holocaust survivors, Shteyrenberg sees a Jewish film festival as more than a collection of films with Jewish themes or stars. Rather, its mission is, “educating the public about tolerance and bridging cultural divides.
“My grandparents are Holocaust survivors so the opportunity to head a Jewish film festival has a great deal of meaning for me, there’s more at stake.”
Shteyrenberg developed his love of film as a child, beginning when he was a student at the Rabbi Alexander S. Gross Hebrew Academy and Miami Country Day School. He then went on to the University of Southern California, graduating from its School of Cinematic Arts.
The MJFF’s opening night screening of When Comedy Went to School aims to whisk viewers back to the Catskills Mountains in New York, a hotbed for American humor. Iconic comedians like Jerry Lewis, Woody Allen, Jerry Seinfeld, Jackie Mason and Joan Rivers are featured in the film’s clips.
Among the other highlights: Sir Patrick Stewart, a draw for his work in Star Trek: The Next Generation and The X-Men films, stars in Hunting Elephants, a joint U.S.-Israel production heist flick that will have its Florida premiere on Saturday. Ida, Polish filmmaker Pawel Pawlikowski’s drama about a young nun in 1960s Poland who learns a dark family secret dating to the Nazi atrocities during World War II, has its Florida premiere, too, on Jan. 29. And the 75th anniversary of Molly Picon’s musical comedy, Mamele, will feature a choir performing songs from the film on Feb. 1.
Woody Allen, recently honored at the Golden Globes, will feature in a short-film documentary ( Woody Before Allen) and a 30th anniversary screening of his Broadway Danny Rose comedy on Jan. 26 at the Cosford Cinema.
“Film is an evocative art. There’s a great deal of mystery to it and … it’s the opportunity to reach such an enormous amount of people with such a simple story and a moving image, how often life can change for the better,” Shteyrenberg said. “My hopes are to present content that will be inclusive and will leave an everlasting impression on our Miami community.”
Shteyrenberg comes to the MJFF with roots in the local film community. He’s worked alongside Jaie LaPlante at the Miami International Film Festival (”a guide and a mentor,” Shteyrenberg said), Robbie Rosenberg at the Coral Gables Art Cinema and Kareem Tabsch at O Cinema, one of the presenting theaters.
“Igor’s enthusiasm for film and the Miami Film community is infectious,” said Tabsch, co-founder/co-director of O Cinema. “He’s bringing fresh, energized and well-informed eyes to his film choices and the result is a festival that is stronger, broader and more ambitious than ever before.”
Several screenings are already sold out, including opening night, Sunday’s Let’s Dance! at Cosford, Aftermath at the Frank Theatres Intracoastal Jan. 28 and Ida.
“I come with a very open heart,” Shteyrenberg said. “In my mind all I want to do is bring people together who have a passion for film and who can take something away from it.”