Michael is so passionate about film role


MICHAEL ETHERTON may just have the perfect job. In fact, it sounds more like a hobby.

Michael is the managing director of UK Jewish Film. And one of the biggest parts of his job is organising, together with founder Judy Ironside, the annual UK Jewish Film Festival.

"We have now incorporated Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool and Glasgow into the festival - we are a national event," Michael said.

"We have gone from being just London-based and taking the films to those other areas is a true highlight."

UK Jewish Film also runs screenings and events each month - one example being the screening of David.

The story of a Muslim boy mistaken for a Jew, UK Jewish Film is showing it at Menorah Synagogue (Cheshire Reform) on Tuesday, May 7 (7.45pm).

London-based Michael also helped launch the Geneva International Jewish Film Festival and initiated UK Jewish Film's French film festival, Le Long Weekend.

"We have moved from being a locally-based festival into one of national significance which is well respected within the UK film industry," he said.

"We are on the look-out for new films, particularly with Jewish themes, throughout the year.

"Around 250 each year are submitted to our office. I also visit the Berlin and Jerusalem film festivals to acquire the latest films.

"It is a good chance to network with those in the industry."

With such a passion for film, one may be forgiven for thinking the silver screen was part of Michael's background. But nothing could be further from the truth.

North-west London-raised Michael actually read law at Balliol College, Oxford, and trained to be a barrister.

But the artistic part of him was chewing at the bit and he decided to head down a different career path.

Michael explained: "It was after training as a barrister that I decided I wanted to become involved with the arts.

"I had already been really involved with music while I was at school and Oxford.

"I had actually gone to Oxford as a music scholar, but changed my course. I was really into theatre production when I was studying, too.

"My parents were shocked at first, but they have been incredibly supportive and encouraging."

After graduating, he trained as a conductor at the Rubin Academy of Music in Israel, under Romanian-born conductor Mendi Rodan.

"It was a wonderful time for me," Michael recalled.

"I was not familiar with Israel at all, although I had visited with my parents when I was very young.

"I went to Israel without knowing any Hebrew, so it was a steep learning curve.

"But I went there with an open mind, made some great friends and learned a lot about music and life."

Perhaps his musical talents are genetic - Michael's Austrian grandfather Deszo Spitz was an accomplished musician who regularly played in a successful jazz band around the many coffee houses of Vienna.

But Deszo and wife Lotte fled Austria the day before the Nazi Anschluss, in 1939.

They arrived in Glossop, Derbyshire, before Lotte moved to Manchester.

Michael's expertise in conducting led him to becoming musical director of the London Jewish Male Choir.

He has also been guest conductor for the Czech National Symphony Orchestra. He worked as a producer, bringing opera shows and concerts to London.

Michael also brought many popular Israeli artists, such as Rita, Shlomo Artzi and David Broza to the capital - and cultivated his contacts with the Israeli arts' scene.

Raised in a Reform Jewish family, Michael, whose aunt and uncle, Barbara and John Spitz, live in Cheadle, Cheshire, was barmitzvah but does not practise now.

"I have a positive sense of being both Jewish and British," he said.

"There is a lot to celebrate about that and it is probably one of the reasons why I became more involved with the Jewish community.

"I have never felt particularly religious, but I do feel passionately that Jewish people have a unique cultural offering to give to the world and that is what I have focused on."

Michael's responsibilities include the operational and financial management of around 150 screenings and events at cinemas across London and the UK.

He landed his current position at UK Jewish Film after seeing an advertisement for a part-time co-ordinator based in Brighton.

Michael's role developed and he is firmly at home in his job.

Many of the movies that UK Jewish Film acquire are Israeli - something which Michael is passionate about.

He continued: "I am a great supporter of Israel, particularly of Israel culture and the importance of Israeli culture, films and music.

"There are many beautifully-made, charming and funny films coming out of Israel at the moment.

"In the last 15 years it has gone from quite a small industry into one that punches above its weight.

"Each year they put out films which are critically acclaimed and win awards. I think it really is a success story."

The 38-year-old is against any boycotts of Israel - especially regarding its films.

"Israeli culture is so full of diversity," he said. "You cannot show that by silencing people and we have to support Israeli artists, academics and others."

Michael, who lists A Serious Man as his favourite Jewish film, loves the engagement between an audience and a new director or actor he has brought over to the UK Jewish Film Festival.

"I love it when we receive great feedback," he added. "It is such a nice job in that sense."

© 2013 Jewish Telegraph