When the Jewish holidays fall during the week, it isn’t too much to ask the studios to make accommodations because of religious observances.
September is a very busy month every year because the fall film festivals kick off awards season but the Jewish holidays can fall whenever. Sometimes, they fall during the weekend, which means a lesser chance of running into a screening conflict. But other times, they take place during the week, which is what’s happening in 2021. While Yom Kippur was Wednesday night into Thursday, everything else is Monday night through an hour past sundown on Wednesday night.
Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret, and Simchat Torah are the major holidays in the fall. The Torah prohibits us from doing any work on these days and as such, I don’t attend press screenings on these dates. After the fall round of holidays, the next important batch is Passover and Shavuot. These are the major holidays and as much as the media may make a big deal about Chanukah because of the December dates, it isn’t a holiday that prohibits work. I got awkward looks several years ago when I came into a temp job on Chanukah.
This fall is quite the navigation between the Jewish holidays, film festivals, and press screenings. It’s been bad enough with having to navigate Toronto, even a virtual festival, while also dealing with both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. I lost out on two days of prep heading into the festival because of observing both days of Rosh Hashanah. I also lost out on seeing Paul Schrader’s The Card Counter for the same reason as the press screening was on the holiday. Unfortunately, Focus Features didn’t make digital screeners available. Given that I’m not walking into movie theaters for non-press screenings right now, I’m not seeing the film anytime soon. In fact, I probably won’t ever see it because I have a strict policy of not watching or covering films that screen on Jewish holidays without any accommodations for religious observances.
Dear Evan Hansen also screened on a Jewish holiday. Thankfully, Universal Pictures sent out digital press screeners. However, the press screening wasn’t press-only and so I would have not attended in person regardless of the holiday. This brings me to another subject: I cannot stress the importance of being able to accommodate those of us that are not comfortable attending packed screenings during a pandemic. As long as theaters like AMC doesn’t require vaccines or a negative test for admittance, I won’t be attending the mixed press/promo/WOM or even regular screenings should I miss a press-only screening. Before the pandemic, seeing a regular screening was an option. But given the Delta surge and breakthrough cases, I have every reason to be concerned especially with some of the horror stories I’ve heard from my colleagues.
When I originally drafted this piece last week, it appeared that I would be losing out on seeing No Time to Die because of the Jewish holidays. The new James Bond film is one of the biggest films since the pandemic started and with the initial press screening taking place on the Jewish holidays, it was enough to kickstart a depression. Put it this way, I was unable to watch any Toronto films because my headspace just wasn’t there. It wasn’t until after Yom Kippur that I found out that there would be a second screening and it doesn’t conflict with the Jewish holidays. Where MGM/UA was accommodating on this title, I cannot say the same about Sony Pictures and Venom 2: Let There Be Carnage.
The new Venom film is screening on Simchat Torah. They are not making digital screeners available. No clue if this will be press-only or a mixed screening either. I’ve let publicists know that there is a conflict with a religious holiday. When I emailed last week, it appeared that there would not even be a local screening. But since then, a screening was scheduled but again, it’s on a religious holiday. Unfortunately, this is going to be the only press screening scheduled. What this means is that not only will I not be covering the film for the theatrical release (hello lost page views!) but I won’t even bother watching for the home release. Is making accommodations for religious holidays too much to ask for?
The sad thing is that this isn’t my first go-around with this. Back in 2019, both Gemini Man and The Addams Family held press screenings on Yom Kippur. I never got around to watching them because they didn’t set up an alternate date nor did they send any awards screeners. If you can’t do the bare minimum and make an effort to accommodate religious observances, films won’t ever get my coverage or awards consideration. Holding a press screening on Yom Kippur alone just sends home the message that a studio doesn’t wish to have my coverage for a film. If they wanted my coverage, they would have screened on a date in which there weren’t any conflicts with a Jewish holiday. Because of this, I’m not covering The Addams Family sequel–to the studio’s credit, they are making digital screeners available this time around.
The Jewish holiday schedule can be a nuisance but studios need to work with us and accommodate our religious observances. You never hear of studios holding press screenings on Easter or Xmas because there would be a backlash. So why is it that the Jewish holidays do not get held to the same standard? It’s bad enough across the board in many occupations where Jewish employees have no choice but to take personal days for the Jewish holidays while the big Christian holidays are federal holidays and as such, businesses are closed. What the studios need to do going forward is simply check the Jewish calendar. It’s not uncommon for films to start screening weeks in advance of their release so maybe this practice should be utilized more in the future. I can save you the time right now for likely conflicts:
- Passover: April 15-23, 2022 (first two days/last two days, starts/ends in the evening)
- Shavuot: June 4-6, 2022
- Rosh Hashanah: September 25-27, 2022
- Yom Kippur: October 4-5, 2022
- Sukkot: October 9-16, 2022 (first two days)
- Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah: October 16-18, 2022