By SHLOMO SCHWARTZBERG
One of the most notable cultural results of the COVID pandemic has been the increased importance of TV and streaming services, as people adjusted to staying at home.
So it made perfect sense for ChaiFlicks, an exclusively Jewish and Israeli content streaming service, to arrive on the scene. ChaiFlicks, which launched Aug. 20, has a very specific demographic in mind, said its co-founder, veteran film distributor Neil Friedman.
“Our audience prefers to view Jewish and Israeli programming as a priority over other programming,” Friedman told the CJR. “We have always prided ourselves on our curatorial abilities. We like what we like, and audiences, critics and subscribers have followed.”
He described the service as a “repository for the best of Jewish and Israeli programming, all on one channel. One-stop shopping.”
ChaiFlicks’ co-founders are Heidi Bogin Oshin, also of Menemsha Films, and Bill Weiner, a former executive with New Regency Productions, whose films include The Revenant and 12 Years a Slave.
Friedman has some idea of what audiences want, as he has been offering them premium art house content since 1998 through his company Menemsha Films, distributor of such popular films such as Gloomy Sunday and The Rape of Europa. Since 2012, Menemsha has focused on releasing only Jewish and Israeli films.
The distributor acquires 10-15 films a year. Six to eight of those are released theatrically. In two-and-half years, three films met the $1 million benchmark for a successful foreign movie at the American box office: Dough, a British comedy starring Jonathan Pryce; an Israeli film, The Women’s Balcony; and 1945, a black-and-white Hungarian film.
Netlifix bought the first two, but not the excellent 1945. That galvanized Friedman and his partners to spring into action with a new business plan.
“We knew right then and there that we had to initiate our own SVOD (Streaming Video on Demand) channel to have a platform for our films if the other services were buying less and less art house fair,” he explained.
ChaiFlicks launched with a slate of 150 films, documentaries, shorts and television programs. Its first episodic show is the comedy Soon By You.
It has entered into multi-picture deals with the Israeli world sales company, Go2Films, the Los Angeles based Jewish Women’s Theatre, and the American Sephardi Federation, whose programming, as its name suggests, centres on the Sephardic experience.
The service won’t compete with Netflix or HBO Max, preferring to brand itself as amedium-sized niche channel. Neither will it limit itself to what qualifies as standard programming.
“We already have theatre on the channel and we expect to have comedy shows, cooking shows, and musical and dance performances, both classical and modern,” Friedman said. “There are no boundaries at all in what we could add to the channel from a programming perspective.”
But ChaiFlicks will still have an art house bent, he added.
“Our taste has always been more the intellectual type of programming. The films that excite us are [those] that cover new ground. If it is new and exciting for us, we believe it will be new and exciting for our subscribers.”
Friedman is confident that ChaiFlicks can build an audience quickly.
With cinemas generally closed, audiences are “slowly becoming skilled and comfortable accessing films at home,” he said. “Everybody has a grandchild or two that can teach the older audience this new conception of streaming films.”
And with no limits, Friedman compares ChaiFlicks with “going for a PhD in Jewish Studies, and that is the same path we hope our subscribers are on with the programming we provide. We hope.”
Learn more at https://www.chaiflicks.com/
Shlomo Schwartzberg is a film critic, teacher and arts journalist based in Toronto. He teaches film at the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre, the Prosserman Jewish Community Centre Ryerson University’s LIFE Institute, the University of Toronto’s School of Continuing Studies and the London JCC, among other venues. He is also the co-founder of the noted Critics at Large cultural web site. (ww.criticsatlarge.ca)