Menemsha Films Duo And Ex-New Regency Exec Launch ChaiFlicks, A Subscription Streaming Home For Jewish, Israeli Fare

A scene from "The Women's Balcony," one of the films featured on the streaming service ChaiFlix. ChaiFlicks

EXCLUSIVE: ChaiFlicks, which bills itself as the first streaming service devoted to Jewish and Israeli entertainment, is launching in North America on Wednesday.

The platform was founded by Neil Friedman and Heidi Bogin Oshin, who run Menemsha Films, and Bill Weiner, a former senior executive at New Regency.

Menemsha’s recent releases have included The Women’s Balcony, Gloomy Sunday, Dough, The Rape of Europa and 1945. They’re among the 150 films, documentaries, shorts and series available on ChaiFlicks, which costs $6 a month or $66 a year, with a 14-day free trial. It will be available on Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Apple iOS, Apple TV, Android and Android TV.

In an interview with Deadline, Friedman said the shifts in the industry had been pointing toward streaming for a while, but the fate of 1945 sealed the company’s plans to create its own service.

After successfully selling other films to Netflix, Menemsha offered it 1945, a 2017 scripted drama set in Hungary just after World War II. As the streaming giant ramps up its own original film efforts, it is getting pickier in terms of acquisitions. “We did more than $1 million in domestic box office, which is usually the benchmark,” Friedman said. “We had these amazing reviews, 97% on Rotten Tomatoes. But they said no. The handwriting was on the wall. I said, ‘If we can’t sell a movie like this to Netflix, we need another way.'”

Jewish and Israeli films are a “niche within a niche,” Friedman concedes, and the streaming marketplace is crowded with nearly 300 subscription services. Menemsha’s 22-year run, though, has shown the loyalty of the core audience. Many of the company’s releases have had long engagements, some even staying in theaters for more than a year. About 80 of its library titles are part of ChaiFlicks at launch.

There is also a well-established festival circuit that Jewish and Israeli films travel across the world. Friedman estimates Menemsha will pick up 10 to 15 titles from the roughly 200 passing through the system each year, continuing to distribute theatrical titles, which will then aim to end up on ChaiFlicks.

ChaiFlicks has set multi-picture deals with suppliers like Israeli global sales outfit Go2Films, the LA-based Jewish Women’s Theatre and the American Sephardi Federation.

Menemsha has a mailing list with about 100,000 email addresses, Friedman said, stemming from a petition drive to get Sir Nicholas Winton a Nobel Peace Prize nomination. The British banker and humanitarian, who helped rescue children under threat from the Nazis, was the subject of the 2012 Menemsha film Nicky’s Family. He died in 2015 at age 106.

“I’m not saying the entire Jewish audience is going to be a subscriber to ChaiFlicks, but whatever the percentage is, it’s a very voracious audience,” Friedman said. Especially in the current COVID-19 climate, which has shut down movie theaters and also disrupted the already fragile specialty exhibition ecosystem, the ChaiFlicks founders sense pent-up streaming demand.

Plus, Weiner pointed out, there is a theological precedent for the initiative.

“With our nimble financial model and loyal subscriber base, we will prevail like David against Goliath,” he said.

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