CA: Memphis Holocaust film debuts Thursday
“Described by its makers as the “definitive” documentary about Holocaust survivors in Memphis, “Lives Restarted” will have its premiere Thursday at the Memphis Jewish Community Center, 6560 Poplar.
The free 6:30 p.m. screening in the MJCC social hall is part of the Memphis Jewish Federation’s annual commemoration of Yom HaShoah or “Holocaust Remembrance Day,” which since 1953 has recognized the almost 6 million Jews who perished during the Nazi regime.
Directed and produced by Memphis-based, Jordan-born filmmaker Waheed AlQawasmi, with Memphis ad agency officer Jerry Ehrlich as executive producer, “Lives Restarted” chronicles the experiences of 11 families who exchanged war-ravaged Europe for the hope but also the challenge of life in America and Memphis, where the language and culture were strange, and where a less institutional form of anti-Semitism continued to be an impediment.
These “Stories of Courage and Resilience” (to quote the movie’s tagline) give the 40-minute work a “definitive” scope beyond the usual war-centered Holocaust film, according to Ehrlich, who compared “Lives Restarted” to a “Discovery Channel, History Channel or Ken Burns type documentary.”
“It just grew into something a lot bigger than we thought it would be,” said Ehrlich, 65, who is president and chief creative officer of The Brand Squad, a marketing and advertising agency. He also is a board member of Facing History and Ourselves, an organization that provides resources about racial and social justice issues and the Holocaust to educators and students. (Ehrlich’s mother — who at one time was a neighbor of Anne Frank — survived nine concentration camps before relocating to Atlanta and then Memphis.)
The documentary mixes new footage and interviews with three Holocaust survivors and eight “second-generation” survivors (the children of refugees and concentration camp internees) with vintage material provided by the Steven Spielberg Jewish Film Archive and other sources. The cinematographer on the interviews was Ryan Parker, while set design was by Darian Corley.
For all the death and disaster in the characters’ back stories, the documentary is ultimately hopeful and inspirational.
… “Usually we are always relating to the story of our lives during the Holocaust, but this time it’s about how we rebuild our lives.”
AlQawasmi, 29, said he could relate to the film’s stories of relocation and readjustment because was born in Amman, Jordan, and came to Memphis “right off the boat” when he was 13. He said the documentary is not only historical but “relevant” because “it covers some of the same issues being discussed today. Back then, Congress tried to stop some Jewish refugees from coming here, saying they might be spies or bad influences.”
“Lives Restarted” was commissioned and funded by Jewish Community Partners, an organization that raises money and provides grants to help “foster and sustain a Jewish community that is cared for, connected and engaged,” according to its mission statement. Ehrlich said the documentary likely will have future public screenings in more mainstream venues (perhaps a Malco theater) before it begins to show up on public television and in classrooms. He said the movie’s 40-minute runtime is intended to enable it to fit comfortably into an hour time slot so it can be useful as a classroom resource.”