You could (almost) eat the dishes!

by | Mar 14, 2024 | It's a Wrap, Other News

In what may be the “sweetest” gala ever presented in its 31-year run, the 2024 Virginia Festival of Jewish Film celebrated the life and work of the late actor Gene Wilder during its “Wonka-themed” Saturday Night Celebration on Feb. 24. Remembering Gene Wilder was well-received by a packed house of theater goers at the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art. An interactive discussion with audience members following the screening featured director Ron Frank.

The audience was welcomed by Anne Fleder, festival co-chair, whose first thanks went to the festival’s generous sponsor for the evening, Bank of America. Representing Bank of America and its investment and wealth management division was Greg Zittrain, senior vice president and wealth management advisor with Merrill.

Speaking on behalf of his 500 plus Bank of America colleagues in Hampton Roads, Zittrain thanked the crowd of more than 300 for coming. He described the film as a touching documentary which showcased the full measure of Wilder’s gifts as a comedic actor, screenwriter, director, and mensch.

“Bank of America,” said Zittrain, “believes that the arts strengthen human connections and contribute to a greater cultural understanding. They uplift our communities by providing space for diverse expression and a greater understanding of history, which helps deepen connections and makes inclusion possible for everyone. In turn,” he added, “the arts have a positive impact on the lives of our clients, our employees, and the community we serve. We are grateful to be partnering with the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater to bring this evening to all of you.”

The screening, which featured clips and highlights from many of Widler’s most popular films, also included testimonials from some of his dearest friends, including the great Mel Brooks, Alan Zweibel (co-creator of It’s Garry Shandling’s Show), and Rain Pryor (daughter of Wilder’s Stir Crazy co-star, the late-Richard Pryor). Some of the most touching parts of the film were those illustrating Wilder’s personal relationships with his parents, his first wife, the late Gilda Radner, and his second wife, Karen Boyer.

It was fascinating to learn about the many facets of a man most only knew from the big screen, and even more interesting to learn about the behind-the-scenes methods and dynamics which led to his great on-screen successes.

The director’s discussion was followed by a wonderful champagne and dessert reception in MOCA’s beautiful atrium, where chocolate fountains, candy centerpieces, and treats of every stripe left the crowd wondering: “Could we even eat the dishes?”

United Jewish Federation of Tidewater is grateful to Bank of America for supporting many of its program areas and looks forward to continuing and deepening that partnership.