Witness Theater: The Film was produced by award – winning documentary filmmaker Oren Rudavsky, together with Selfhelp Community Services. The film documents a nine – month period in which Holocaust survivors and high school students meet weekly to share their stories, which culminates in a series of public performances in the spring.
Producer/Director, 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 Dreamsco-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. For more information about Oren, the production team, and the cast, visit www.witnesstheaterthefilm.com/about.
Selfhelp Community Services is a nonprofit organization in New York City that served more than 4,500 Holocaust survivors last year as they age in their homes and communities, with independence and dignity. Selfhelp operates the oldest and largest program serving Holocaust survivors in North America, caring for over 4,500 elderly and frail individuals. Selfhelp services for Holocaust survivors honors the sacred pledge made by our founders: to serve as the last surviving relative to victims of Nazi persecution. This promise remains our imperative. Our overarching goal is to provide Holocaust survivors with the services they need so that they may live with the comfort and dignity they so richly deserve. To learn more about Selfhelp Community Services, visit www.selfhelp.net.
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.