JFI remembers Judith Montell z”l, Oscar nominee, SFJFF luminary and Forever Filmmaker

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Judy Montell was a filmmaking force of the universe. She was well-known, respected and beloved by the Bay Area filmmaking community. She came to filmmaking later in life (after 50) and produced 8 films over the span of 25 years. She was nominated for an Oscar for Forever Activists: Stories from the Veterans of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade which screened at SFJFF in 1991 and the SFJFF produced Jewish Film Festival in Madrid the same year. We are thankful for Judy’s tremendous contributions to the independent film world from the radical Jewish chicken farmers of Petaluma to the Palestinian women cinematographers of B’Tselem and so many powerful stories of Jewish history and experience.

On June 20th, there will be an open Zoom memorial for Judy which will be announced at a later time.

Condolences to the family and memories about Judy can be shared at https://www.mykeeper.com/profile/JudithMontell/.

Those interested in giving tzedaka in Judy’s memory are encouraged to contribute to the Judy Montell Tribute at the Jewish Film Festival and The New Israel Fund.

Memories and Messages

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L to R: Dan Wohlfeiler, two Brigade members, Connie Fields, Bridge member, Judy Montell (Photo courtesy of Connie Fields)

Remembrance from Janis Plotkin

We met Judy as she was in the middle of production for the film FOREVER ACTIVIST. We first heard of the film from Connie Field who was helping her at that time. It was Dan Wohlfeiler who traveled with Judy to Spain as a translator and fixer. It was a highly anticipated film, as many of the Abraham Lincoln were aged, some were sick, others already passed. Franco was long gone (1975) and the songs and stories of the resistance were just waiting to re-emerge.

By 1990 the Jewish Film Festival had established itself as a meeting ground for political dialogue between the Bay Area activists and the progressive wing of the Jewish community. FOREVER ACTIVISTS help secure the audience we were aiming for: social justice warriors. Judy gave us enormous gift, she preserved the stories that revealed the best of ourselves. She was the embodiment of a 20th century Leftie…her life story and the stories she preserved were all about the pursuit of justice and equality. A HOME ON THE RANGE; Jewish Chicken Farmers in Petaluma preserved the optimism of a Jewish socialists farmers hoping to build a more utopian world. IN THE IMAGE (2004) gave voice to Palestinian women now empowered with video cameras document their lives under Israeli Occupation.

Judy was a friend and a precious member of our film community, may her memory be a blessing!

Judy Montell at the Jewish Film Festival in Madrid — Remembrance from Deborah Kaufman

When we produced our Jewish Film Festival in Madrid in October 1992 the Balkan war was raging, Bill Clinton was about to become President, and Spain was celebrating the Quincentennial of what they called ‘the Encounter’ with the ‘new world,’ but what we remembered as the expulsion of Jews and Muslims from Spain.

The Festival, cosponsored with the Filmoteca Espanola, was the biggest Jewish cultural event in Spain in 500 years, and one of its most memorable screenings was Judy Montell and Connie Field’s exhilarating “Forever Activists: Stories from the Abraham Lincoln Brigade.” The film was hot off its Oscar nomination for Best Documentary, 1991. Judy arrived with Sam Gonshak, a Brigade veteran featured in the film. They spoke to the rapt, sold-out audience after an incredibly long, standing ovation. Everybody seemed to be crying in that packed theater, many decades after the valiant fight against Franco’s fascists. Many of the young Spaniards in the audience said that they knew very little about the period or about the Brigade activists, and they were utterly blown away. Judy was luminous, majestic on stage, and both her film and her presence were an inspiration to us all.

The deep emotional outpouring, and the intense feeling of international and inter-generational solidarity that night has stayed with me all these years. It was among the most electrifying moments in the Festival’s history, a great gift from Judy, filmmaker of distinction, generous friend, and political ally extraordinaire.

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