Arts and Culture

ChaiFlicks, the ‘Jewish Netflix,’ is here

A screenshot from ChaiFlicks, a Jewish-themed streaming platform. (ChaiFlicks)

(JTA) — It was only a matter of time: A Jewish Netflix has arrived.

That moniker is probably the best description of ChaiFlicks, a film and TV streaming platform focused on Jewish-themed movies that launches Wednesday. It helps that its creators were once in business with the real Netflix.

Neil Friedman, founder of the Jewish-focused distribution company Menemsha Films, said he sold two films to Netflix: the 2015 bakery-set drama “Dough” and the 2016 Israeli film “The Women’s Balcony.” But since then, Netflix has shifted its focus to its original offerings.

In 2017, when Netflix passed on another film that the founders were distributing — “1945,” a rare Hungarian production about the effects of the Holocaust — the idea for ChaiFlicks began.

“We realized then and there that if we were going to have our films on [a subscription video on demand] channel, we would have to initiate our own channel,” Friedman said.

The service was offered earlier this year in a beta version for Menemsha Films’ mailing list subscribers, spokesman Gary Springer said. But on Wednesday, the service will be open officially to all at a price point of $5.99 a month, or $65.99 a year. ChaiFlicks also offers a 14-day free trial.

It’s launching with over 150 titles, including feature films, documentaries, shorts and other entertainment, all of it either Jewish- or Israeli-themed. While it doesn’t have nearly as much content, ChaiFlicks also offers something that newer, bigger streaming services like HBO Max and Peacock don’t: It’s available on every major streaming platform, including Roku, Amazon Fire and Apple TV, as well as both iOS and Android mobile devices, in addition to a desktop version. The tech for the site is powered by the video platform Vimeo.

“We have not had any issues with Roku or Amazon,” Friedman said. “We are a small niche streaming service and that has its advantages so as not to affect the preexisting ecosystem in the VOD and streaming worlds.”

The ChaiFlicks lineup at the start includes “Natasha,” “A Home on the Range: The Jewish Chicken Ranchers of Petaluma,” “Holy Land Hardball,” “In Search of Israeli Cuisine,” “Heading Home: The Tale of Team Israel,” the show “Soon By You” and other titles that might be familiar to those who follow the Jewish film festival circuit. “Shekinah: The Intimate Life of Hasidic Women” and “Bulgarian Rhapsody” are among the titles that will come to the service in the week after launch.

“We started ChaiFlicks … as soon as the pandemic hit in March, as we had the advantage of owning 80 Jewish and Israeli titles of our own,” Friedman said. “Since such time, although still in the beta stage for the channel, we have been acquiring third-party product for ChaiFlicks to the extent that we as of today have 150 titles for ChaiFlicks alone.”

As the service continues to acquire third-party programming, Friedman said, he and his two co-founders expect that Menemsha titles will become a minimal part of the ChaiFlicks presentations. Those co-founders are Heidi Oshin, a fellow Menemsha Films staffer, and Bill Weiner, who once worked for the large production company now called Regency Enterprises.

Friedman estimated that the service will add about three new films per week.

Categories include comedy, drama, documentaries, food, music, sports, LGBTQ stories, shorts, “The American Sephardi Federation presents …” and specific categories for individual countries and regions, which include Israel, Europe, France and South America.

Also on the way, according to the spokesman Springer, is a partnership with the Jewish Women’s Theater in Santa Monica, California, and agreements with some Israeli film companies.

Eventually there will be content that premieres on ChaiFlicks, mostly special live debut events.

“We will need to provide that ‘wow’ factor to the subscribers with premieres on ChaiFlicks,” Friedman said. “However, for now we want to retain the sequential windowing not to upset existing relationships in the first four stages of release.”