Our story begins in 1980

The Jewish Film Festival was conceived and founded by Deborah Kaufman in 1980. It was the very first festival of its kind.

Read the Complete History

The birth of the first Festival coincided with a world wide explosion in the number of independent films produced each year. Many indie filmmakers chose to focus their lens on their own communities, giving voice to those who felt ignored or marginalized by mainstream media and breaking down cultural barriers by sharing stories previously unknown to the outside world. As a champion of Jewish cinema, JFI had ambitious goals from the very beginning and over the years played a pivotal leadership role introducing both emerging and established filmmakers from around the world not only to Jewish audiences in the Bay Area but to people in all four corners of the globe.

In the 80s, three of the early Festivals enjoyed national U.S. tours and by the 90s the Festival had traveled as far as Moscow and Madrid. During our first decade, we also published the Independent Jewish Film: A Resource Guide,which helped launch more than 150 Jewish film festivals worldwide and is still something of a bible for community-based festivals. In 2000, we played host to the first National Conference of Jewish Film Festivals, organized by the National Foundation for Jewish Culture, with 31 festivals represented. In 2010, we were named one of the fifty most innovative Jewish organizations in the U.S. by the Slingshot Fund, and listed among the top fifty film festivals in the world by IndieWire— accolades that confirm and bolster JIF’s leadership position at the intersection of media arts and Jewish culture worldwide.

Since then, we have continued to evolve to meet the ever-changing needs of our growing community. Today, our programming extends throughout the year and all across the Bay Area. We reach a global audience of 1.7 million who watch our videos online. We provide critical artists’ services that give voice to new talent each year. We preserve important information about the history of Jewish Independent cinema through our online archive and JFI On Demand service, providing even greater access to our films and the talent behind them to a global audience. We also serve as a rich resource for film presenters, academics, community organizations, and individuals around the world seeking the best in Jewish media content.

After more than three decades as the leading curatorial voice for Jewish film and media worldwide, we decided it was time for a new name that better reflected who we had become and the services we were providing. And that is how we became the Jewish Film Institute. We are still the presenters of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, but we are also much more and now we have a name that reflects that.

As the Jewish Film Institute, we continue to champion fierce independence, advocacy for freedom of expression, and a commitment to showing ground-breaking work from a diverse range of filmmakers. We stand behind our commitment to support both established and emerging filmmakers working in a variety of platforms, and to advance new forms of storytelling in an ever-changing landscape of media creation, distribution, and consumption. We are dedicated to creating connections within and beyond the Jewish community, nurturing honest, open conversation about issues that affect us all. Most importantly, we strive to always remain relevant and vital.




  • Produces the world’s first Jewish Film Festival in San Francisco
  • Organizes three national festival tours sponsored by the American Film Institute and Landmark Theatres
  • Publishes Independent Jewish Film: A Resource Guide, empowering other cities to launch their own Jewish film festivals
  • Produced the first ever Jewish Film Festival in Moscow, the largest public Jewish event of it’s kind in the USSR.
  • Launches www.sfjff.org – the very first Jewish film festival website
  • Creates a partnership with Bay Area PBS affiliate, KQED with a  weekly series called the Living Room Festival followed by an annual broadcast of the “Best Of” films from the festival each fall.


  • Purchases the 9th street Independent Film Center in SOMA/Mid-Market with Center for Asian American Media and Frameline ensuring a sustainable future in San Francisco’s fast rising real estate market
  • Creates the first online Jewish film archive
  • Launches the New Jewish Filmmaking Program, the first Jewish youth filmmaking and mentorship program, giving a voice to a new generation of media artists
  • Premieres Monthly Select Shorts series online


  • Named one of the 50 most innovative Jewish organization in the U.S. by the Slingshot Fund
  • Listed among the top 50 film festivals worldwide by Indiewire Magazine
  • Awards the first filmmaker residency
  • Presents the first New Movement Film Award for Best Short Film
  • Offers online Video-on-Demand, delivering greater access to Jewish films worldwide
  • Becomes the Jewish Film Institute