Monthly Archive for: ‘October, 2015’

‘Skokie,’ one of 183 Mill Valley festival films, is touching, uplifting

[Woody’s Rating: ★★★★★

Eli Adler, director of “Surviving Skokie,” a Mill Valley Film Festival world premiere, and Jack, his father, re-visit history at the infamous Auschwitz death camp gate.

Eli Adler, director of “Surviving Skokie,” a Mill Valley Film Festival world premiere, and Jack, his father, re-visit history at the infamous Auschwitz death camp gate.

San Anselmo filmmaker Eli Adler wants to help make sure the Jewish rallying cry “Never again” isn’t forgotten.

His important, highly personal documentary, “Surviving Skokie,” a world premiere at the 38th annual Mill Valley Film Festival, is an effective attempt to meet that goal.

Along with co-director Blair Gershkow, a San Rafael resident who also was responsible for the film’s script, Adler combines historical footage with a touching narrative that creates an uplifting tale of survivors finally ending their silence about what they endured in the Holocaust.

The 66-minute film made me weep.

I experienced a deep sadness for Adler’s living father and dead relatives, and for the six million lives the Nazis took.

But that was coupled with an intense joy stemming from a belief that we — all the Jewish and non-Jewish we’s of the world — will remember man’s horrific inhumanities to man.

And can become a human army of deterrents.

That’s a duality I’d felt many, many times before, particularly during my 23-year tenure as Managing Editor of the Jewish Bulletin in San Francisco.

Protestors rally in Illinois against neo-Nazis in “Surviving Skokie,” a documentary in the Mill Valley Film Festival.

Protestors rally in Illinois against neo-Nazis in “Surviving Skokie,” a documentary in the Mill Valley Film Festival.

“Surviving Skokie” emphasizes the painful first-person recollections of Eli’s father, Jack, a Polish immigrant and concentration camp survivor who came to Skokie, Illinois, in hopes of burying his past.

For decades, Jack — the sole survivor in his Nazi-plagued family — and the other Holocaust targets in “the world’s largest village” had kept quiet about what they’d endured.

But in the late 1970s, his life and his new family were shaken to their essence, along with that of 7,000 other Holocaust survivors living there, when neo-Nazi thugs announced plans to march through the community “because that is where the Jews are.”

Ironically, the hate-mongering new breed of Nazis motivated those survivors to unite and tell their stories.

Also ironically, the anti-hero of the piece, Frank Collin, turned out to be a cowardly, self-hating Jew — the son of a survivor who became a virulent anti-Semite (whose right to march nevertheless was defended by the American Civil Liberties Union).

Collin reportedly had the chutzpah to tell his chief attorney, a Jew, ”Don’t think just because you are representing me free of charge that when we take over the country you won’t be the first one to go to a gas chamber.”

The documentary also poignantly covers the 2012 trip Jack and his son, twice an Emmy winner, made to Poland.

There they visited a cemetery, two death camps and two ghettos that had been riddled with “hunger, disease and mistreatment” and where epidemics spread wildly because of lack of medical care.

And where Eli learned more details about his extended family having died in the Holocaust.

Especially tear-provoking is his return — in search of closure and peace — to the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp where his sisters and father died.

Despite my heritage and previous knowledge, I found much of the film, and Jack’s emotional scars, extremely difficult to see and hear.

I expect many viewers will have the same reaction.

The sheer horror of what occurred in Europe is almost impossible to absorb even after all these years.

Still, the film offers an astoundingly valuable lesson.

I certainly can take to heart in the fact that the Skokie survivors eventually founded a Holocaust museum.

And what Jack suggests to the teenagers he addresses during an aptly named March of the Living: “Don’t tolerate any kind of racism or bigotry.”

“Surviving Skokie” originally was scheduled to run twice — at 11 a.m. Oct. 11 at the Sequoia in Mill Valley, followed by a Q&A with Eli Adler and four-time Emmy winner Gershkow, and at 5:45 p.m. Oct. 16 at the Rafael Film Center in San Rafael.

Because both those screenings were sold out, a third showing was slated — a matinee at 2:30 p.m. Oct. 18 at the Sequoia.

Festival screenings, presented by the nonprofit California Film Institute, were scheduled from Oct. 8 through 18. Spotlighted are 107 features and 76 shorts, including 17 world premieres, from 50 countries.

Personal appearances were slated by Carey Mulligan, Sarah Silverman and Ian McKellen.

Ticket cost $15 ($12.50 for CFI members). Information: 1-877-874-6833 9r www.mvff.com.

Contact Woody Weingarten at voodee@sbcglobal.net or check out his blog at www.vitalitypress.com

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