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 Film Stars: Sally & Larry Sears                                 

Even as a teenager, Sally Sears understood the transformative power that movies could have to shed light on an issue, tell a story or chronicle history.

Sally Sears, a Youngstown native, became enthralled with the silver screen as a teen, when she and her friend Bonnie Cole regularly watched the latest movies at their neighborhood theater.

In a fortunate turn of luck – Hollywood could not have scripted it better – Bonnie, along with Deborah Bobrow, Director of Arts and Culture, helped launch the Mandel JCC’s annual Cleveland Jewish FilmFest 11 years ago. When volunteers were needed to screen potential films for the first FilmFest, Bonnie knew an ideal candidate was just one phone call way – Sally Sears.

“When I was asked to be part of The J’s FilmFest, little did I know how fulfilling this experience would be, and the wonderful, enduring friendships I would make,”says Sally.

At first Sally was quiet during the film
review process but quickly became more comfortable expressing her critique of movies. “When I joined the committee I was reticent about expressing my opinions about the movies we screened. Then I began to understand how to think critically about
a movie and determine if the production quality, subject matter, entertainment level, Jewish content and potential appeal to our very discerning Cleveland audiences would make the lm worthy of being considered for the FilmFest,” says Sally.


(L-R) Bonnie, Cole, Natalie, and Sally Sears

Deborah Bobrow says Sally has played a starring role as a FilmFest committee member and as a co-chair. “Sally’s thoughtful comments about the movies we screen and her continued leadership are a major asset to our committee,” says Deborah. “She has greatly contributed to the FilmFest’s success and we are very fortunate to have her on our committee.”

The lively give-and-take of FilmFest committee members as they share their insights and opinions is something Sally continues to enjoy. “As we discuss a film we never lose sight of our goal which is to appeal to our audience and to present a comprehensive and compelling FilmFest lineup that includes comedies, documentaries, shorts, features and dramas,” Sally says.

Now in its eleventh year, the Cleveland Jewish FilmFest has become a family a air and Sally’s husband, Larry, and daughter, Natalie, share a co-starring role. Both can frequently be found at many of the screenings. They readily agree that the

FilmFest adds to the quality of life for our community. It’s because of this that the Sears have made generous philanthropic gifts to the FilmFest.

“It’s natural that if you enjoy and appreciate something, and feel it is worthy of support, to then support a project like the FilmFest,” said Larry. It’s been nice to see Sally’s passion for the FilmFest and she works very hard at it.”

“I am passionate about film, Jewish culture, community and the ability to share with others” said Sally. “One of the things I am most proud of is that the FilmFest brings the Jewish community together to educate, entertain and discuss, and to simply enjoy the art form,” she continued. “It is so worthy and such an important part of The J.”

In an effort to expand and develop a cross- cultural reach, the FilmFest has partnered with other festivals like the Chagrin Documentary Film Festival and the Cleveland Institute of Art’s Cinematheque . “As we evolve and adapt, our goal is to engage a broader and more diverse FilmFest audience,” says Sally. “Whether a movie makes you laugh or cry, whether you are Jewish or non-Jewish, once the lights go out, movies broaden our perspective and serve as a bridge to connect us all on a very human level.”