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How The Atlanta Jewish Film Festival Comes to Life Virtually & In-Person

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Learning to run a virtual film festival with drive-in movies too, for the first time isn’t easy? The Atlanta Jewish Film Festival is back and better than ever! Karl Barham and Rico Figliolini are joined by Sari Earl, the vice president of the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival board. For years the AJFF has been bringing great films to Metro Atlanta and on this episode listen in to explore how they’re doing a film festival in a pandemic and socially distanced environment.

Website:
https://www.ajff.org
New Website: https://ajffrecommends.org
Social Media: @AJFFAtlanta

Timestamp:
[00:00:30] – Intro
[00:03:17] – About Sari
[00:07:10] – Changing Perceptions
[00:13:20] – Going Virtual
[00:18:09] – Ideas to Take into the Future
[00:22:33] – How Films are Selected
[00:24:35] – Cost of Films
[00:26:53] – Getting Involved
[00:27:58] – Film Recommendations
[00:32:11] – Closing

“I have always been drawn to the mission of the film festival, which is the bridge building. Bringing people together, digging into a topic, and then unpacking it together with a guest speaker. To me that’s really exciting, but it’s the first time where I really think, art is more than art. Art is human and it’s a human connection. And it really spoke to me. It was great.”

Sari Earl

Podcast Transcript

Karl: [00:00:30] Welcome to the Capitalist Sage podcast. We’re here to bring you advice and
tips from seasoned pros and experts to help you improve your business. I’m Karl Barham with
Transworld Business Advisors, and my co-host is Rico Figliolini with Mighty Rockets Digital
Marketing, and the publisher of the Peachtree Corners magazine. Hey Rico, how are you
doing?
Rico: [00:00:48] Good, Karl. How are you?
Karl: [00:00:50] I’m doing well. I’m excited. This is one of my favorite times of years, film festival
time. And today we are going to have a great discussion with Sari Earl, the vice president of the
Atlanta Jewish film festival board. And we’re going to talk about some of the exciting things
that’s coming this year to Atlanta and the film festival. So I look forward to having that chat.
Sari: [00:01:15] Thanks for having me, Karl. Thanks Rico. I really appreciate you having me.
You have a great show and I’m glad to be here.
Karl: [00:01:21] Awesome. Why don’t we introduce our sponsor before we get into our
conversation with Sari today?
Rico: [00:01:27] Sure. Our sponsor is Hargray Fiber. They’ve been a sponsor of both Peachtree
Corners magazine, and for the family of podcasts that we do. And this year they are the, they
introduced the Hargray Economic Stimulus Plan. Just like the federal government has one,
Hargray has one. They’re an internet cable company that provides fiber optic, fast internet
connection and business solutions for not only small businesses, but enterprise sized
businesses. So the economic stimulus plan, real simple it’s one year free of business, internet,
and phone service for those that qualify. So check them out there at
Hargray.com/business/economic-stimulus, and find that website, check them out. Look at what
they’re doing. They’re here in Peachtree Corners. They’re all over the Southeast. They’re not
like the cable guy. They’re really committed to the communities that they’re in. So check them
out, Hargray Fiber.
Karl: [00:02:32] There isn’t a business today that should not have great internet speed, making
sure that their fiber optics is working and they’re able to communicate. Whether they’re working
from home or they want to keep that speed up at their place of work. So I’m really grateful to
Hargray Fiber for all they’re doing in the community and helping businesses with this great
stimulus package.
Rico: [00:02:53] Absolutely. So I just also want to say one other thing. We are a sponsor of the
Atlanta Jewish film festival with the Peachtree Corners magazine and the latest issue that came
out. So I just want to let everyone know that, you know. And I’ll tell them how great the website
is when we get to it. But it’s a great film festival. So I’m excited to have Sari on.
Karl: [00:03:17] Well today’s guest, Sari Earl is the vice president of the Atlanta Jewish Film
Festival board. And for years they’ve been bringing great films to the Metro Atlanta and beyond
community. And today we get to talk about this year’s film festival, some of the interesting things
they’re doing. And even get to explore how we’re doing this in this pandemic environment, this
socially distanced environment. Lots of great options for you to get out and see some films. So
we’d like to welcome Sari to the podcast. How are you doing today?
Sari: [00:03:52] I’m great. Thanks for having me.
Karl: [00:03:54] Why don’t you tell us a little bit, start off by telling us a little bit about yourself.
What do you do when you’re not enjoying great films and tell us how you made it to Atlanta?
Sari: [00:04:03] I’m originally from Brooklyn, just like Rico. And moved down here to attend
Emory law school. I stayed and got my master’s in laws and taxation. And then I worked at Delta
as in-house counsel. I worked for another trade association. And ultimately turned to writing.
And I’ve been a professional writer ever since. I’ve published about 10 books, some fiction,
some non-fiction. I love to try new ways of writing. I’ve written a screenplay and I got involved
with the festival a number of years ago. Mostly through the community building. The American
Jewish committee created the film festival originally, and they have a black Jewish dialogue, a
Baptist Jewish coalition. They have just amazing events and programming, but it’s really about
the interconnecting of our communities. And so the film festival was a program that was so
successful at bringing people together. That we kind of outgrew our founder and partner
American Jewish committee, and we became our own non-profit. And once we did that, like the
partnership with American Jewish committee is so strong and it’s a huge balance. Because yes,
we’re a film festival, but we are focused on our community and our wider community. We
conversed over Jewish films, but the topics are wide ranging and a large percentage of our
audience is not Jewish. And we love that. So typically on a typical year, non COVID year, I go to
the film festival with my friends. As an example, I have a friend who’s an atheist, one who’s in
Hindu and one who’s Catholic. I am Jewish. We all go together, we pick certain films and then
afterwards we debrief about how we process them. And it’s that kind of magical experience that
we’ve done year after year. We love it. As soon as the program guide comes out, people start
circling what they want. I get emails from people I’m going to this one, I’m going to that one. But
also the other thing that really gets me excited about it, are the Q and A’s. We bring in these
guests and we get guests that you’re really not going to hear somewhere else. One of my
earliest guests that I remember so clearly was, it was a film about a Mossad agent, an Israeli
spy who went to go work in Egypt to try to uncover nuclear ambitions in Egypt. And he had a
family in Israel and then he had a family for his undercover work. And the film was about what
happened to him. Great story. At the end of the film, we got to talk to his son about the impact of
his father being a Massad spy on his life. It was fascinating, fascinating. So we get really good
conversations going.
Karl: [00:07:10] I think in particular this past year, if there was a time where people needed to
one, be distracted from the day-to-day through film and through art. And at the same time, bring
people together through shared experiences and seeing artists’ stories and visions and seeing
how it’s received. It’s been this year. And I think, you know, I think many people I talk to have
missed films on a mass scale. And especially the independent ones that are story-driven plot
driven, performance driven stories. We all love the Marvel big, fantastic. But those quieter, that’s
where a lot of people learn about other cultures. And I think the work that you’re doing and the
film festival does to bring that together is amazing. So I’m curious, you know, and do you have a
favorite film that you’ve seen over the past few years that brought a different insight to
something that you may not have, the film fundamentally changed the way you perceived a
person or people or culture or something of significance?
Sari: [00:08:28] Absolutely. The first one that pops into my mind is why culture, why art? And I
remember watching, it was a documentary about the Warsaw Ghetto during the Holocaust and
how people were starving in the streets. People were suffering such indignities by the Nazis.
And during that time they chose to put on theater productions. And I’m thinking, this is the worst
of times, you’re in the worst of places. Who’s thinking about putting on a show? And something
clicked. What was happening is they wanted to keep their sense of joy and play and culture.
And so they put on Yiddish theater in the middle of a Holocaust. And for me, I have always been
drawn to the mission of the film festival, which is the bridge building. Bringing people together,
digging into a topic, and then unpacking it together with a guest speaker. To me that’s really
exciting, but it’s the first time where I really think, art is more than art. Art is human and it’s a
human connection. And it really spoke to me. It was great.
Karl: [00:09:46] Absolutely. I remember watching a film some years ago. And I think it was about
Indian culture, this particular one. Have you heard of the ones that follow water? I think earth,
fire. I remember watching them. They’re just great films and they’re based on books, great films.
But it gave you an insight into a culture that you didn’t see every day. But I remember it made
me reach out to people and want to get to know them and their culture and experience more of
that. And I think the film festivals like this that brings those types of elements together is going to
be the way that a lot of young people are going to really get to learn about people that are
different from them, or grew up differently from them which might make them curious to go meet
more people and get to understand more people. Which is a lot of what we could probably use
now after the past year. People got disconnected, socially distanced. And how do we start
bringing them back together.
Rico: [00:10:45] No, it’s interesting. Go ahead.
Sari: [00:10:48] Sorry Rico. It is really interesting. I mean, the film festival has a lot of films that
are international. We have films from Israel, you know, I have the list here, but it’s a huge list.
We usually have a German films, a lot of German films. Spanish films, Japanese films. So we’ve
had the directors come in. It’s been really exciting, but what I like about it is that I would not
otherwise watch a foreign film, just not my cup of tea. And here through the Atlanta Jewish film
festival, it’s been curated for me then I know it’s good. I know it’s interesting. I know it’s
something where I’m going to learn something about another culture and I love it. So during the
film festival, I’m watching international films. And you’re right, Karl, it makes me feel more
connected and understand these other countries and the people living in them so much better.
And I don’t know that I would do that otherwise.
Rico: [00:11:46] You know what’s more about that too, is that because it’s other countries and
people think Judaism or Jewish people are Israel or the United States. And they’re not
understanding there are Egyptians that are Jewish. There are Brazilians that are Jewish. There
are Japanese that are Jewish. And that culture of Judaism mixed in with the other culture that
they grew up in or country they grew up in, right? Just makes it so much different and it adds so
much to that fabric of what’s going on in their life because they might be Japanese, but they’re
also celebrating Judaism in that country, right?
Sari: [00:12:26] Yeah. That’s an interesting point. There’s a film this year in the film festival,
which I’m really excited about. I’m going to try to see if I can find the page in this beautiful
program guide, that we love. It’s our Bible for the festival. It’s called They Ain’t Ready For Me.
And it is about an African-American rabbinic student who decides to help save the people of
Chicago’s South side. I mean, it looks so exciting. And the fact that’s something else that’s been
really interesting is learning more about the, not everybody’s just one thing. One color, one
culture, one country. We’re all, you know, a mix of everything and to explore all the different
corners of how different people can intersect those different identities is really fun and opens us
up.
Rico: [00:13:20] I noticed that you circled within that directory your movie. I’ve done the same
thing. But then I’ve gone to the website, which by the way, I’ve got to give you props for. That
website is phenomenal. It’s easy, you can register for the movies. You register yourself, you
register for the movies you want to see. You can go back and check the times and stuff. And as
you’re looking at the videos and actually you can look at trailers on the site too, or a description.
It’s rare that you see a website works so well. To be able to keep you informed and in the ease
of use. So it’s intuitive. You don’t see that even on corporate websites, they’d probably spend a
lot of money. So on a nonprofit side, I’m just totally impressed. So I’ve just got to tell you that.
Sari: [00:14:09] Thank you. I have to give kudos to the staff. Kenny Blank is a phenomenal
leader. The staff is amazing. They’ve worked so hard on the ease of use and I was also
impressed, like everything’s new this year. So going virtual, like we’re on Apple TV. We’re on
Roku. You can find us. You can find us on all of our Q and A’s are going to be posted on
YouTube so you don’t even have to buy tickets to the film. And yet you can access those
amazing question and answers where we have these phenomenal people talking about their
films and their journeys. And we’re really trying to make it as accessible as possible. And I’ve
got to tell you, the staff really has out done themselves.
Rico: [00:14:52] And as a former film production manager, when I was in school and I used to
publish a fanzine back in Brooklyn for movies. I went to the Star Wars premiere and sat next to
Rex Reed, who was wondering who these kids were. I was with my siblings reviewing the movie
for the fanzine. Just to be able to see the Q and A part and understand how that movie was
made. Where people think, Oh, that’s easy, or they have a predetermined a way that it was
done or something. And you realize, wow, that was an accident? That happened on set? That
was just improv when it looked like it was organic or something. So the sweet spots of seeing
how a movie is made.
Karl: [00:15:37] Today, they have all those extras on films. If you go on Netflix, you’ll be able to
see the extra director’s cut, directors comments, and so on. Well, you know, 20 years ago they
didn’t have those things. And if you went to a film festival, you get to hear some of those
insights, those questions. You know, was that luck or was that planned and how did they think
through making a film? Which I’m pretty sure that those folks ended up being this generation of
filmmakers. And so for young kids out there right now and their families, if they’ve enjoyed film,
going on that website, and I think doing, circle the films that you want to take a look at and sign
up, get tickets and enjoy with your family. Make it a family experience. And listen to the Q and A,
and then have that discussion with your family about what you interpreted from the film.
Whether it’s the technical, how it was made, or maybe it was the story of the plot, or questions.
That’s a great COVID socially distant activity to do with the family that, you know, in years past,
you may not have been able to do as easily if you had to go out. But I got a couple of kind of…
Sari: [00:16:47] Before we leave this topic, it’s a really good point. The things that are made
easier by going virtual in the past, you had to be in your seat for the seven o’clock showing, and
then wait afterwards for the setup to have the guests. This year, it’s seamless and you have a
window. So the film festival is February 17th to February 28th. And during that time period,
tickets are on sale now AJFF.org. Which is, thank you for complimenting our website, that was
great. But you have a window now, so you don’t have to watch it at a certain time at night. You
might be a morning person. You might want to watch it while you’re working out. You might want
to watch it, you know, with other people, as you were saying, Karl. So there’s a window within
which you can now screen it. And that really opens it up. And then the Q and A’s will be there for
you.
Rico: [00:17:39] And not only that you can watch more than what you may have done before. So
last year before COVID, maybe you got to three of these movies, maybe you did the midnight
show. Which I’m going to watch that midnight horror movie, right? The Vigil. That’s going to be
cool. I’m going to watch that I’ve been dying because that’s the time to watch it. But this time I
can watch a half a dozen or a dozen if I want. I mean, it’s so different than before. It’s probably
opening it up to a wider audience than could otherwise have made the festival.
Karl: [00:18:09] And that was actually where, where I was going to ask, of the things that have
changed because of COVID. What are some of the things that just, you know, maybe might’ve
surprised the team and or blessings that, you know, things that you’d like to figure out and
incorporate and keep around, even beyond this period that everyone’s socially distant.
Sari: [00:18:30] That’s a great question. So when everything first hit, the real conundrum was,
do we hibernate or do we innovate? And we went with innovate. So we spent a lot of time
searching web platforms, figuring out what a virtual film festival would look like. Going to drive
ins, which was really fun. We got to test different drive-ins and for the first time ever, we’re
having drive-ins at the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival. They’re going to be at the Mercedes-Benz
stadium and the Home Depot backyard. And we’re going to have three films. Shivah baby,
Spaceballs, we always bring back some great films that we love, and Little Shop of Horrors. And
we’re having food trucks. We’re having a donut truck. We’re having giveaway bags. I mean,
we’re trying to really bring the festival and the festivity into this experience. So that’s definitely
something different than I really had fun with. But there’s something else that happened that we
realized during COVID. First, we have hundreds of volunteers and they really wanted us to stay
on track. They wanted us to keep our schedule. They wanted to keep working in the film
evaluation and get the films curated for this upcoming festival. And doing all of our meetings on
Zoom, we not only became more accessible to new volunteers who otherwise couldn’t have
gotten into our building. I never want to lose that voice at the table. Someone who maybe had
an accessibility issue or some kind of an issue that made it so that they could not be there in
person. Now they can participate. I never want to lose those voices. Those people who are
fresh to the table and let us see things from a different point of view. We’ve had a number of
new volunteers come on, who otherwise never could have been able to attend and participate.
And I don’t want that to ever go away. It’s been phenomenal. The other thing that we did is we
took our entire collection of every film that we’ve shown at the film festivals in years past. And
we uploaded it onto a platform on the internet. It’s at AJFFRecommends.org, brand new
website. I’m particularly excited for the educational pieces. We have a lot of school partners,
great schools that are exposing their students to, like you said, Karl, these different viewpoints,
different countries, different cultures and then want to unpack it. And so we can recommend
films to them that they can get off the platform and help them unpack and create a way to
connect these students to the story on the screen. And then the final thing, which I’m so excited
about, is we created a filmmaker fund to help filmmakers struggling to help them get their films
to audiences. And we have our first film ever that has benefited from the filmmaker fund. And it’s
premiering, it’s world premiere is that the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival. And it’s about the city of
Atlanta. It’s called The City Too Busy to Hate. It’s a great film and it’s produced by three local
filmmakers who are phenomenal people and the film shows you things you would not have
otherwise seen. I got to see a few snippets of it and it was showing Holocaust survivors being
brought together during COVID, spatially distanced to listen to a concert. You know, the things
people did to really open their hearts and try to find ways for other people to be connected.
Because Atlanta is pretty awesome. The greater Atlanta is a pretty unique place and they, this
film explores different pockets of the community and how they tackled with COVID, but also how
they came together under COVID. Very exciting. And the filmmaker is going to keep going. I
love it.
Karl: [00:22:33] We always talk about innovating. When something external challenge is brought
in the organizations that thrive are the ones that figure out how to innovate. And some of the
best, you know, things that we see today comes out of hardship, where people have to figure
out a way. And I think you might’ve missed, you solved the one other really important challenge
that people have in enjoying film festival. You solved the babysitting challenge. Now today
instead of having to get that babysitter and go out there and see a film you could put the kids to
bed, you could put the kids in front of Disney. You can still enjoy the film in so many different
ways that’s going to be important. You mentioned volunteers, hundreds of volunteers. Why don’t
you give a little insight on the process to get the films selected and featured into the festival
each year.
Sari: [00:23:32] So I think this year we had about 500 films submitted. You can go on our
website if you want to submit a film. And then it goes to the film evaluation committee. And I
have served on the film evaluation committee and I did it one term and I was done. Because
you have to see a lot of really bad films to get to the good ones. And I want my film experience
to be curated. That’s why I like the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival. These hundreds of volunteers
having thousands and thousands of reviews that they post online. And then they discuss them.
They come together and they discuss the films. And are they good enough as far as production
value? Is it a relevant story, is it timely, is it Jewish? That question comes up a lot. And then they
curate those films and they propose a list of films that they recommend for the festival. And then
that’s what we weed through to get you the best of the best. So you don’t have to be digging
through a bunch of different platforms. It’s curated for you.
Karl: [00:24:35] Then I’m curious, the other part is the cost now. So the traditional model where
you buy a ticket and you show up and so on. How would the cost of the film and what are the
options for people to enjoy these films this year?
Sari: [00:24:50] Well, the great thing about the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival this year is that
when you buy a ticket, it’s for whoever’s in your house. So the ticket could be for five people. It
could be for ten people. It’s whoever’s in your pod can get it. You get a code and the code gives
you entrance into the film. The drive-in, you pay per car. And once you pay per car, you can
have as many people in your car as you want. You can show up for that screening. So the
prices are actually pretty good. And then the Q and A’s are free. Anyone can watch a Q and A,
even if they haven’t seen the film.
Rico: [00:25:27] Let me ask you something on the drive in part. If someone comes in with a
pickup truck and lays down the back and puts the all the blankets down, is that a good, is that
good?
Sari: [00:25:38] Don’t make me laugh. You’re making me laugh. That’s good. I think we said any
vehicle, any vehicle.
Karl: [00:25:50] I can see school buses rolling in, people in school buses.
Sari: [00:25:54] Hey there is a donut truck coming with hot cocoa. So a school bus would be
very appropriate. But, yeah, so we tried to make it accessible. And, but we’re also a nonprofit. I
mean, we’re not making a profit off this. We’re providing a service, we’re part of our community.
And that’s the thing that was amazing about this year. People wanted to support us. They said,
we don’t want you to just survive. We want you to thrive. And it’s been really beautiful to see
how many supporters came up and said, you’re important to our experience of living in Atlanta.
You’re important to our experience of being in Atlanta, Jewish and non-Jewish. And it’s been
really exciting. And heartwarming, I guess, is the best word heartwarming to have so many
sponsors and supporters really care about us and volunteers who are willing to give their time. I
mean, we’re a volunteer nonprofit and we have some of the most talented and amazing people
coming to help us. We’re very, very lucky and we really appreciate it.
Karl: [00:26:53] We want to help continue that. So if people are out there watching this and they
want to get involved, whether it’s through sponsorship and donations, whether it’s through
volunteering their time, what are the ways that people could get involved? How do they reach
the organization?
Sari: [00:27:09] Well we are on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. AJFF Atlanta is our hashtag,
AJFF Atlanta. So Atlanta Jewish films. But more importantly, I would go to the website. We have
one of our best committees is called community engagement. And it brings a cross section of
people, different religions, different races, different identities, different socioeconomic
backgrounds. And we come together to talk movies and how to bring people to films. I love that
committee, highly recommend it. We have a guest programming committee also, that’s really
fun. A lot of celebrities because we pick who gets to introduce films, who gets to do the Q and
A’s. So I would go to our website and check it out. Please volunteer, AJFF.org.
Karl: [00:27:58] That’s fabulous. Well, I mean, we could talk about films forever. Are there any
that you have on your watch list? For folks that are new, you might suggest that they take a look
at? Give me one or two recommendations that I can put on.
Sari: [00:28:14] Okay, alright. So we have some phenomenal guests. If you guys seen the show
Unorthodox on Netflix, the actress who stared in it is brilliant. And we have got her attending our
festival and speaking to us, she’s throwing in a film called Asia. And it’s ASIA, and I’ll see if I can
find it. But it’s a phenomenal film about a woman and her daughter and their relationship which
can be really challenging. The other films I’m really excited about, Howie Mendell is our closing
night. He is coming to our festival via Zoom. We’re interviewing him and he’s great, and funny,
fun, fantastic. Who else is fun? There are so many, I mean, the one I mentioned to you earlier
They Ain’t Ready for Me. Can’t wait to see this, very excited. Okay, the horror movie is called
the Vigil. And the Vigil is having a midnight showing. And then of course we have a window to
watch it afterwards. If midnight is not your cup of tea. And I heard it’s phenomenal. In Judaism,
when someone passes away, there’s a tradition to have someone sit with the body. And the film
takes that experience and creates a horror film out of it. And I heard it was fantastic. We have a
film critic who’s on our film, who chairs our film evaluation committee. He said this film was
fantastic. And Karl, to your point about the children and the babysitter problem, there’s a film I
don’t know if you can see it, it’s called the Crossing. And it’s about children who have to cross
over a wilderness during World War II in Norway, and it’s great. Great films. So there are films
that are child-friendly including the drive-ins. I mean, the drive-ins are a great opportunity to get
out with your kids in a safe space.
Karl: [00:30:16] Oh yeah, Spaceballs is a classic.
Sari: [00:30:19] Spaceballs is a classic. I mean, it’s the best and you know, our kids haven’t
seen these movies. Our kids haven’t seen Little Shop of Horrors and it’s an event and you’re out
and I’ve been to the Home Depot backyard at Mercedes Events theater. It’s phenomenal. It’s a
great space. It’s open, it’s, I felt really safe when I was there. I’m excited for the food trucks.
We’re doing giveaways. We’re making it festive because we want people to enjoy this and have
some fun.
Rico: [00:30:47] I think I would go for the food trucks too, you know? Kosher food, a couple of
knishes. I mean, it’s just like, I’m just missing a few things from New York.
Sari: [00:30:58] Oh yeah. I wish, but there’s no knish, but there are donuts. That’s another thing
that we’ve added for the festival this year. We have home delivery of some gourmet meals, with
your movies. So when you order your tickets, it’ll pop up and say, would you like a meal
delivered to your house? And if you buy opening night tickets, this is an insider tip. If you buy
tickets for opening night, you will get a free festival in a box delivered to your home. And inside
the box are treats, we want to support our restaurant partners who’ve been great to us for so
many years. I mean, we really want to make this fun and festive. So opening night festival in a
box drive in we’re going to have some giveaways and some swag and lots of food and fun. And
we’re really trying to make this an event. And so far, the audience is clamoring for this. We’ve
had an amazing response from our sponsors, amazing response from our audience saying, we
want you to, we want the show to go on. The show must go on. So AJFF this year has
reinvented, re-imagined. But we’ll be here February 17th till 28th, and it’s going to be a lot of fun.
So join us, please.
Karl: [00:32:11] Well I want to thank you so much for sharing about the Atlanta Jewish Film
Festival and all the ways that you bring people together through film and continuing the tradition
and innovating it in a lot of different ways. Sari, you have been excellent and a great
ambassador for the program that’s coming up. And again, why don’t you tell us the dates of the
film festival?
Sari: [00:32:38] Sure. It starts February 17th. Tickets are on sale now at our website, AJFF.org.
We are a nonprofit. And our closing night is February 28th. The opening night film Kiss Me
Kosher has gotten rave reviews, and we picked a comedy. We said, we must start with a
comedy this year. We need to lighten up. And then we end with a comedian, with Howie
Mendell. And he’s coming in as a guest for the Atlanta Jewish film festival. So it’s going to be
great.
Karl: [00:33:11] Fabulous. Well, thank you so much. Sari Earl, vice president of the Atlanta
Jewish film festival board. And you know, this year we need laughs. We need distractions. We
need to get out. And the film festival is giving us all of that this year for folks to be able to enjoy.
And so I definitely want to give two notes that I made for myself. This sounds like the ideal
Valentine’s gift for folks. And the beauty of this is you could send this Valentine across the
country. People could enjoy it anywhere. So just through the realities of being virtual, people
could enjoy this from anywhere in the country, really. So really great idea for a gift. So thank you
so much for sharing everything you have today.
Sari: [00:34:00] Thanks for having me. Some of the films, just so you know, are geo blocked. So
they’re only available in Georgia. A lot of the films are available anywhere in the United States of
America. So you just have to go to the website and check it out. But there are plenty of films.
And like I said, they’ve been curated. Like someone else, hundreds of times have viewed this to
make sure it was good and worth my time. So it’s worth checking out.
Karl: [00:34:24] Fabulous. Well, thank you again. Thank you so much. Well I wanna say thanks.
Thanks everyone, the sponsor, Hargray Fiber for continuing to support the Capitalist Sage and
the other family of podcasts that we have. I’m Karl Barham with Transworld Business Advisors
of Atlanta Peachtree. Our business advisors are available to consult on your business, whether
you’re looking to improve it or grow it, whether you’re looking to exit your business. You can
contact myself or any one of our advisors to help to guide you through that path. Now’s a great
time. The SBA is offering great rates and programs for people acquiring businesses. So if you
want to be your own boss, so you can watch more films at the time that you want give us a call.
And we could help you find the right business that fits what you’re doing. Rico, why don’t you tell
us a little bit about what you’ve got coming up.
Rico: [00:35:18] Sure, we just got our latest issue out of Peachtree Corners magazine. I showed
you guys that before. Faith and sports is the cover story. Lots of stuff in here, a lot of good
stories. The roller hockey Ogden rink, and the association along with stories about, from
education to summer camp, to the new redevelopment authority that the city has started, to
aging well resource guide. So that there’s a bunch of good things in here. You can find all of it
almost online now at LivinginPeachtreeCorners.com. There’s an article in here, a short piece on
the on the film festival as well. And we’re going to be doing more of these types of stories
coming out over the next few weeks. If you want to find out a little bit more beyond what I do at
MightyRockets.com. That’s content, marketing, marketing social media, and creative work,
creative services. Check that out. If you need me, you can find me on LinkedIn, Rico Figliolini. If
you can’t spell that, just go to the website and you’ll see it and you can find me almost
anywhere. So yeah, and from, and it’s amazing that the three of us let’s put us back on here,
three of us are all from Brooklyn or New York.
Karl: [00:36:31] Yeah. Absolutely, Brooklyn spreads out all over the country, right? They seem
like 30 something percent of folks in the United States came through Brooklyn. So here we are
reunited in Georgia.
Rico: [00:36:44] Right. Good to have you on Sari. Oh well, hold on. Can’t hear you for some
reason.
Sari: [00:36:50] Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate it. I had a lot of fun talking
with you guys. It was great. Really appreciate you hosting us and the Atlanta Jewish Film
Festival. Thank you.
Karl: [00:37:00] Our pleasure. Well everyone, go get your tickets. February 17 through 28, check
out the website. Get those tickets, send them out as gifts and support the local community and
just help bring people together. This is the Capitalist Sage podcast. Again, bringing you great
guests from the community here in all aspects of business, whether it’s for-profit or non-profit.
We do not discriminate. We want to talk to everyone and share what people are doing to help
innovate and bring value to the community. So thank you everybody. And thank you, Sari, for all
you are doing for the community
Rico: [00:37:36] Take care guys.

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Business

How Five Community-Owned Businesses Were Bolstered with Cares Act Money – Mojitos

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Mojitos

“I don’t want to say it was a drop in the bucket, it was very helpful,” said Luis Fernandez of the thousands in federal money his business got under the Paycheck Protection Program, a later COVID-19 grant and from elsewhere.

“But one rent check, one liquor license renewal and a couple of utility check payments and you just blew $50,000,” said the owner of Mojitos Cuban American Bistro at the Forum as he recounted well over a year of struggle in his Peachtree Corners restaurant and other locations. He said without the money from the paycheck program, they wouldn’t have made it until December of this past year, when they got the grant.

As the pandemic flickered to life in the spring of 2020, he said, the dining room was closed for more than a month, then open for takeout only, and when the dining area finally reopened, 80% of their square footage disappeared due to social distancing.

Thinking initially that the crisis would peak and begin to subside in 15 days, Fernandez said he gathered staff and told them that he was going to pay them as if all and sundry were going on a couple-week vacation.

When that span came and went with no sign of recovery, “that’s when the body aches and the grey hairs came. I feel like I aged 30 years in ten months,” he lamented.

Efforts to stay afloat included them cashing in life savings and maxing out a home equity line of credit. Not so good.

But much better: Fernandez credits both the city of Peachtree Corners and ordinary citizens with being a huge help. The grant money that he had applied for in late November-early December came through a couple of weeks before Christmas — a very timely holiday gift, if you will.

As with Harwell, Fernandez said since reopening and easing back toward “normal,” business has been a roller coaster ride. “We saw some amazing weeks of sales come in late May and early June (of 2020) and we said, ‘Hey, baby, we’re coming back.’ And then the whole riots and everything started happening with spikes in cases and (business) went back down again.”

He credits the city with helping to stem the bleeding in a couple of ways. Fernandez said when they decided to reopen the dining room, he procured a large banner announcing the reopening. Unbeknownst to him, he said, was a provision in the city’s building code limiting the size of such signage. A code enforcement agent drove the point home with a visit.

The Cuban restaurant owner decided to plead his case with city hall, emailing a member of the council and getting a sympathetic hearing. “A week later, the city announced they weren’t enforcing the signage code,” he said, adding, “you’re not thinking about the city code when you’re trying to save your financial life.”

The city also eased up on late fees for paying liquor sales tax, Fernandez said, which alone saved thousands of dollars. The move made sense, he said, given that restaurants, with historically little profit margin, have to closely allocate their money in order to meet such obligations in a timely manner.

The community also rallied, buying gift cards while the restaurants were closed and placing garden-variety-sized orders with a $100 tip attached. “They really did bring tears of joy on more than one occasion, just knowing that we have a community that wants to help small businesses,” he said.

Fernandez said the business is back to about 80% of its former level. He noted that the latest wrinkle involves finding enough staff. “We had an amazing Mother’s Day weekend at all of our restaurants,” he said. “But we have like 40% of the staff, so it feels a lot harder.” He said the weekend was a mad scramble as a result.

While the trend is in a positive direction, he added, a business model meant to evoke a crowded, hopping 1950s Cuban nightspot faces a tough challenge in an era of social distancing and face masks.

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How Five Community-Owned Businesses Were Bolstered with Cares Act Money – BeautifulLea Hair Salon

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MY SALON Suite— BeautifulLea Hair Salon
MY SALON Suite— BeautifulLea Hair Salon, Photos by George Hunter

Businesswoman Lea Harwell said her business has been subject to ebb and flow since the onset of the pandemic some 16 months ago. Although she prides herself on having an “always prepared” mentality, being shut down for five weeks and then having to make operational concessions to COVID took a considerable financial toll.

She said the thousands of dollars in COVID grant money she received helped compensate for the weeks of no income. The veteran cosmetologist dipped into her own finances for business expenses during that time, then used some of the grant money to replenish her rainy-day stash.

She also utilized the help to get masks and additional safety supplies and institute cleaning measures. Then there were operational and scheduling changes that chewed away at her former income level.

“I work longer hours to do the same number of people because I’m not seeing two people at the same time,” Harwell said. She occupies a one-room suite with three chairs at the MY SALON SuiteBeautiful Hair Salon and said in pre-COVID times she could have a client in one chair undergoing a color processing while simultaneously giving a haircut in the other. That’s not possible now.

On the other hand, she allows that having an individual room instead of working as part of a larger open salon has been a plus.

In addition to the limitation on people, additional costs have come with completely sanitizing her room between clients and keeping mask and cleaning supplies on hand for her and for customers who want to feel more comfortable.

That has made her more adaptable, she inferred. “You can’t cut hair very well around a mask,” she said, although if clients insist on a covering, she can find a workaround.

She’s gone the extra mile on Zoom to help clients who are even more ultra-cautious. Harwell said several who have feared venturing out have asked her to jump on a video call with her so they can trim a friend’s or partner’s bangs or clean up a bit around their ears.

She’s willing to do that, but couples it with a cautionary note. “I tell them I will try to help, but I can’t take any responsibility for what you do with your untrained hands.” As she noted, “I have doing this for 40 years.”

Providing what could be termed “tele-haircuts” is a second manner in which she’s had to be nimble since COVID reached pandemic levels last year. Harwell said there are other examples as well.

Take what happened at the end of the five-week shutdown, for example. “I remember the day the governor was doing his press conference. He made the announcement at 4:00, and at 4:01 my phone started blowing up. That day was a scramble, and everyone wanted to be back,” Harwell recalled.

She said that after initial rush, business tapered off. A couple of roller-coaster cycles followed, including a drop-off last July and August. Now her business has settled into a groove that’s about 80% of the pre-pandemic level.

A couple of ancillary factors have brightened the picture. “Our owners were very generous to us,” she said. Although they had to keep up with payments to their landlords, lease payments from individual salon tenants were waived during the time that they were not able to be open, she explained.

Harwell also cited working for a number of years in sales and marketing, which she pursued until coming back to the haircutting business some 13 years ago. “I can get out there and find business,” she said confidently. “If business falls off, I just don’t wait for something to happen. I need to work, and I want to work.”

For now, she’s playing it conservatively, using her much-appreciated help to rebuild her savings while keeping her fingers crossed that cases don’t spike again to the point that another shutdown is required. She’s still in recovery mode, financially.

Harwell said she thinks Governor Brian Kemp has done what he can to keep small businesses going during the pandemic and added that she’s eternally grateful that Georgia is not in the same boat as California, where she said stylists weren’t allowed to work for a year.

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How Five Community-Owned Businesses Were Bolstered with Cares Act Money- Anderby Brewing Feature

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Preston and Michell Smelt

The grandly titled Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act came quickly out of Congress and was signed into law after the namesake disease clamped down on both public and private life in March of 2020. A key provision was a $367 billion loan and grant program for small businesses.
Sometime later, the city of Peachtree Corners was allocated $4.5 million meant to aid those enterprises and divvied it up among each qualifying applicant. This is a story about five Peachtree Corners enterprises forced to weigh a number of considerations, from how to balance safety for customers and staff with a driving need for revenue — and about the help they got to stay afloat.

Anderby Brewing

Anderby launched in 2019 with owner Preston Smelt and spouse Michell, along with a small cadre of employees, brewing a variety of IPAs, stouts, fruited sours and other favorites. They built buzz through their taproom and by supplying kegs of beer to restaurants. Then came COVID, and the whole enterprise, well, went flat.

The bar area serving individual brew

They got a COVID-19 grant through the Cares Act plus help through other government programs that, lumped together, was in the low six figures. It was badly needed as their taproom shut down until June. With restaurants closed, as well and many later limiting to pickup and delivery once open, that part of the business dried up as well.

Smelt said some stark numbers told the tale. He said a good month prior to COVID meant $35,000 to $40,000 in total revenue rolling in from product distribution and their taproom. After the onset of the epidemic, that shrank to $3,500 or $4,000.

Anderby’s original brew canned on site.

“And it wasn’t like we were a long-established business where we could go to a bank and say ‘we need a $100,000 loan and we’ll be good for it as soon as we get out of this,’” he pointed out.

Smelt said, “The money got us to the point where we were able to make some reinvestment in product and stocking raw materials.” He said it also helped to fund the acquisition of capital equipment for a canning operation “because that was one of the few ways to move beer during this period.”

Preston and assistant brewer Dana Reppel.

That canning equipment took until October to arrive. In the meantime, they resorted to a hand bottler, filling exactly two bottles at once and selling finished six-packs out the front of their digs. Ultimately the endeavor was a money-loser, but Smelt said it did provide some revenue, got their product into the hands of their boosters and gave them visibility.

It also kept them from pouring even more beer down the drain than they had already had to do.
Another factor in play, he said, was a “fantastic landlord” who worked with them on their rental obligations. “We would not have survived without those two things,” he said bluntly.

Wall art

Smelt said he and his wife had just started talking about revamping their product lineup when the epidemic descended. The federal help helped enable them to settle on a core of three or four beers they think will help them expand throughout the region.

The couple is cheering the growing vaccination numbers and drooping COVID caseloads. With more companies reopening in the surrounding Technology Park and their workers beginning to stop in, and restaurants starting to clamor again for kegs, prospects are improving.

Anderby expansive interior

Another positive factor, he said, was that three new breweries have opened in the immediate area since they debuted. He said having several in close proximity will create a “brewing scene” that could become a destination choice.

At their own destination, they had cut taproom seating by 30-40% before reopening last summer and took other cleaning and sanitizing steps. “What we’re wanting to do is create an environment where you can come in and spread out and feel comfortable,” Smelt said.

In line with the push toward distancing has been a reluctance to re-start larger themed events. He said that if a bigger crowd shows up in conjunction with daily operations, they’re OK with that, but a large blowout is not in the cards.

In another case of altered plans, Smelt said earlier plans to do a capital expansion have been put on hold. All the juggling of procedures, products and profit-and-loss numbers has taken a toll.

“There hasn’t been a lot of sleep,” he said. “There’s still not. While things are improving, we’re not back to normal yet.”

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