Aron is 88 years old, Eazek is 94 and Claudine is 89. Over seventy years ago, although they lost their entire families, they survived the holocaust and resettled in New York City. Now they are sharing their stories in a unique program led by a drama therapist with high-school students in Brooklyn. The hope is that this sharing will sensitize the students and give some closure to the adult survivors after all these years. The Witness Theater workshop they participate in culminates in the performance of a play based on Survivor stories.
The film that has emerged uses a mix of cinema verite, archival footage, interviews, animation and staged recreations of stories to blend past and present, using the Witness Theatre program as a vehicle for telling the survivors’ remarkable stories. Scenes from the program’s weekly creative workshops and final performance are interspersed with scenes of the survivors at home, all within the structure of a dramatic arc that traces survivors’ lives before, during and after the war.
The result is a story that, told in the present, imparts insights into the effect of the past on multiple generations of Jews, while also illustrating the power and importance of transmitting experience from one generation to the next.
As the last generation of Holocaust survivors lives out their final years, the number of individuals who are physically and mentally able to “bear witness” dwindles and the question of what happens to their stories and their experience remains.
"Witness Theater is a terrifically moving film. It's respectful of the Holocaust survivors, as well as the high school students fortunate enough to act/interact with them. This project not only valorizes survivors while continuing their legacy; it also endows young people with a dramatic understanding of the past, and the preciousness of life."
- Annette Insdorf
Columbia University Film Professor, and author of Indelible Shadows: Film and the Holocaust
The Film Team
Oren Rudavsky is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, and several National Endowment for the Humanities and National Endowment for the Arts grants. Rudavsky produced the NEH funded American Masters documentary: Joseph Pulitzer: Voice of the People, broadcast date April, 2019. The film was chosen to premiere at the Mill Valley Film Festival and at the Hot Springs Documentary Festival. He produced Witness Theater a film chronicling a Selfhelp organized workshop between holocaust survivors and high-school students which will premiere in 2019. His films Colliding Dreams co-directed with Joseph Dorman, and The Ruins of Lifta co-directed with Menachem Daum, were released theatrically in 2016. Colliding Dreams was broadcast on PBS in May 2018.
His film A Life Apart: Hasidism in America was short-listed for the Academy Awards and broadcast on PBS and his ITVS funded film Hiding and Seeking was nominated for an Independent Spirit award and was chosen for the PBS POV series. Both were co-directed with Menachem Daum. Rudavsky was the producer of media for the small and large screen permanent installations at the Russian Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center in Moscow which opened in 2013. In 2011, Rudavsky produced a series of profile documentaries for Bloomberg television called Risk Takers. These included profiles of Michael Burry and Michelle Rhee. In 2009 Rudavsky was Producer/Writer of the two part series Time for School 3, a twelve-year longitudinal study examining the education of seven children in the developing world for the PBS series Wide Angle. In 2006, Oren completed The Treatment, his fiction feature as Producer/Writer/Director, starring Chris Eigeman, Ian Holm and Famke Janssen. The film premiered at the 2006 Tribeca Film Festival where it was awarded Best Film, Made in New York. Other work by Rudavsky includes And Baby Makes Two, funded by ITVS and presented on PBS Independent Lens (co-directed with Judy Katz), Spark Among the Ashes, At the Crossroads, Theater of the Palms, Dreams So Real and A Film About My Home. He was director of photography on most of his films as well as on the PBS POV film Twitch and Shout.
Rudavsky’s work includes writing and producing segments for the ABC national series PrimeTime Live, the PBS series Media Matters, Religion and Ethics Newsweekly and other national programming. He has also worked as a post-production supervisor on the film unit of Saturday Night Live and the syndicated series Tales From the Darkside in the 1980’s.
Editor and Writer
Zelda Greenstein's work as film editor has been screened at almost every Jewish film festival in the world, and on PBS and HBO. Zelda’s editing credits include: Touchdown Israel (2014), One Voice (2009) [Audience choice award, Hawaii International Film Festival], Praying with Lior (2007) [best documentary award at many Jewish film festivals], Hiding & Seeking: Faith and Tolerance after the Holocaust (2004) [Opening film for the New York Jewish Film Festival, POV], Divan (2003) [Tribeca Film Festival ], 90 Miles (2001) International Human Rights Watch Film Festival) (2001) International Human Rights Watch Film Festival.
Other celebrated work includes, Women of the Wall, Enemy of the People, and An American Love Story. Her early work included assistant editing on the landmark film Partisans of Vilna.
Clare Manchon and Olivier Manchon
Based in Kingston NY (from Brooklyn/Paris), We come from a background of writing, recording and touring, sharing with live audiences. We had the band Clare and the Reasons for 3 studio albums, 2 live albums and several world tours. Olivier leads Orchestre de Chambre Miniature (currently dormant but will wake someday!). One of our main focuses when writing music for image is quality of sound. Since we have a human string orchestra, (Olivier) we're able to create all real strings and don't have to cave in to fake string sounds because of budget; something that has become all too common nowadays. We're thrilled by taking on projects and creating a palette that paints musical contours as boldly or subtle as the film calls for.
Associate Producer & Assistant Editor
Clare Redden graduated a year early from Vassar College, having majored in Theater and minored in Religion. She has worked in the documentary world in various capacities, including on films for PBS’ American Masters and American Experience, as well as on independent films.
Joel Orloff is an animator and cartoonist living in Providence Rhode Island. He got his BA in English from Vassar College. He is currently working on a comic book adaptation of Franz Kafka's The Castle. You can see his drawings at his (infrequently updated) blog: skaweeerureeweeert.tumblr.com.
Jazzmen Lee-Johnson is a visual artist, scholar, composer, and curator. Lee-Johnson traverses the subjects of critical race theory, the Atlantic slave trade, Black feminist theory, museum interpretation, and new media studies in both her curatorial and artistic endeavors. She has curated exhibitions at the Chinese University of Hong Kong; Artist Proof Studio and the ABSA Art Gallery in Johannesburg, South Africa; RISD Museum; and Brown University Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice. Lee-Johnson received her BFA in Film and Animation at the Rhode Island School of Design and her MA in Public Humanities at Brown University, where she was also a Public History of Slavery Fellow at the Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice.