In the following interview, director Todd Salovey tells the background of the play. He also provides information on forthcoming projects.
Following is an interview with Nicole Opper about her film Off and Running, to be shown at The San Diego Jewish Film Festival’s Joyce Forum –A Day of Emerging Filmmakers
By Yvonne Greenberg
LA JOLLA, California–Nicole Opper, selected as one of the top 25 independent filmmakers to watch in the United States by Filmmaker Magazine, grew up in San Diego, graduated with honors from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.
She will have her critically acclaimed first documentary feature film, Off And Running, which she directed, co-wrote and co-produced, shown at the AMC La Jolla on Monday, February 15 at 8:00 PM as part of the 20th Annual San Diego Jewish Film Festival’s Joyce Forum –A Day of Emerging Filmmakers. Off and Running will be the Main Feature of the Joyce Forum and Opper is scheduled to appear in person.
The main character in the film, Avery, a black teenager, is adopted by two Jewish lesbians from Brooklyn along with an Asian younger brother and a mixed race older one and raised Jewish. She is a talented runner who is closing in on being awarded a college scholarship. Avery’s re-connecting with her birth mother prompted by the search for her identity causes her to rebel against her family by skipping school, staying away from home, and looking for new peers. This rebelling in order to connect with her black roots also causes Avery to put at risk the loss of the college scholarship. But for the first time, she feels she is exploring her identity and deciding to make sense of her upbringing and realizes the genuine love her adopted parents have given her.
In a recent phone interview from New York, Opper enthusiastically talked about Off and Running and other subjects.
1. Why are you in New York and why are you so excited?
The film Off and Running is playing theatrically right now at the IFC Center. I am deep in the midst of press interviews and promoting the film and making sure that audiences come see it here in New York. And today we just found out it has been held over for at least one more week. So it will have a nice long run here.
2. Did you write the script and do all the filmmaking?
It isn’t exactly a script because it is a documentary, but we did write in the sense that we were shaping the film constantly in the edit room and creating outlines. I actually collaborated with my teenage subject of the film, Avery, on the writing. And she has been awarded for her work by the Writers Guild of America, so there is a degree of writing that goes on in a documentary.
3. What is Avery doing now?
She is doing very, very well running track on a full scholarship at Delaware State University and most recently she has been here in New York participating in question and answer sessions for audiences at the IFC Center. So that’s been really fun because we are always very excited to hear from her.
4. Do you decide where the film will run?
We are working with a distributor, First Rate Features. They are also based here. We collectively decide what makes the most sense, but the San Diego Jewish Film Festival committed to showing the film quite a long time ago, I think even before we had distribution, I’m not sure, but I am a long-time fan of the festival in San Diego. I love everybody who runs it. I grew up there, I’ve known the festival, and have been close to it for a long time. I grew up watching films at the San Diego Jewish Film Festival as a kid.
5. Where did you go to high school here?
I went to Point Loma High School.
6. Did any teacher have an impact on you in filmmaking and writing?
Absolutely. I would say that Priscilla Allen, who passed away recently and taught the acting program at Point Loma High School, had a very deep and meaningful impact on me as an artist. She was really the person who taught me to listen to my creative impulses and follow them and believe in my own vision, And also Larry Zeiger, who recently retired, gave me wonderful support, and he’s busy writing people to come to The San Diego Jewish Film Festival right now.
7. What about the story made you think it would work well as a feature film?
It all came down to Avery, the charisma that she exuded and her willingness to speak so openly about even the most vulnerable and private parts of her life. I really felt very compelled by what she had to share so early in life and I sensed that other young people were going to benefit from hearing her story and, in fact, we hear from teenagers all the time who thank Avery for participating in this film because they see themselves reflected in her and it is helpful to see yourself reflected in the media when you’re growing up, especially particularly when you are growing up in a kind of non-traditional family.
8. What are Avery and you up to now?
Avery is majoring in criminal justice and really just likes to be somebody on Law and Order. So she’s busy with that and still racing very regularly and doing quite well as a distance runner.
I’m traveling with the film and gearing up for my trip to Mexico where I’ll be headed in a month to begin my next documentary film about three teenage boys growing up in a home full of abandoned children in Mexico, a coming of age in a different kind of family. It’s a really special home, it’s self-sustainable, and the boys all work right there on the premises in order to support themselves and they also attend school nearby and most of them graduate and go on to lead successful lives. So we are going to explore what it is that they are doing right and why this place has created such a beautiful family.
9. Has Off and Running led to more film opportunities for you?
Yes, actually I’m developing a fiction film, a narrative film about a young African-American Jewish woman who goes to Mexico to study abroad for a semester after losing her mother in a car accident and she develops a powerful relationship with her home stay mom. And I think you will see a lot of Avery in this character.
10. Which award had the greatest impact on you?
The most important award that we have been honored with is the Writer’s Guild of America Award simply because they recognized the value of Avery’s contribution as a teenager. I got to stand there as her former teacher, because our relationship began as student and teacher, and to see her come full circle, enjoy the fruits of her labor, and watch people appreciate what she has given.
Yvonne Greenberg is a freelance writer based in San Diego.
By Yvonne Greenberg
LA JOLLA, California — The first film ever made by Ethiopian Israelis, Zrubavel, a drama, provides great insight into their way of life, about which many Israelis have had heretofore little interest in exploring. Kudos to Shmuel Beru, also an Ethiopian Israeli and its filmmaker, writer, and director, who at the age of eight courageously walked across the Sudanese desert with many Ethiopian Jews to immigrate to Israel.
Zrubavel involves an Ethiopian Jewish family that immigrated to Israel. The film focuses on their religiosity and caring for and about their children and grandchildren and their future. We sense their friendly nature, as they share the Shabbat dinner with friends and friends of friends.
The movie begins with aspiring adolescent filmmaker Yitzak (Daniel Beru) introducing his family and describing his street where black, white, and red people live, and his resentment over the overbearing presence of police in case there is trouble. His orthodox dad wants him to become a rabbi. Mom wants him to be a soccer star. Grandfather Gite, who used to be a colonel, is now a street cleaner in Israel. There is a very moving scene where Yitzak, feeling sorry for grandpa, finishes the street cleaning, and sends him to eat
Grandpa wants his son Gil to become a pilot in the Israeli Air Force, but the doors close to them at every school they go to, even cooking school, because of discrimination based on their color.
Gite’s daughter, Almaz, wants to become a singer and choose her own husband. She has a boyfriend who is a distant cousin, and the family insists on knowing exactly how they are related.
We delight in Almaz’s PG love scene with her boyfriend.
However, Beru also shows scenes in his portrayal of the family that are not so sweet.
The musicality, from rhythmical hand clapping and street dancing to a smaller and even larger combo of Almaz’s boyfriend, where she sings, adds great vibrancy to the film.
Much more goes on with the family which is culturally enriching and certainly worth seeing.
In 2008, at the closing ceremonies at the Haifa Film Festival, Zrubavel won the Sharon Amrani Television Drama Award. That award is considered by those who made Zrubavel the achievement of an entire Ethiopian community!
Zrubavel is the first film Beru ever wrote. He hopes that it will break down the barriers between Israelis and the Ethiopians.
Zrubavel, in Hebrew and Amharic with English subtitles, will be shown at the AMC La Jolla on Thursday, February 18, at 7:30 PM as part of the 20th Annual San Diego Jewish Film Festival.
Yvonne Greenberg is a freelance writer based in San Diego.
or Hispanics, blacks, lower class, poor students, or it doesn’t matter?
My talk will be for parents and teens and I also wanted to add that educators are welcome and it is very applicable to educators as well. So I just wanted them to know that they can come and that I think it would be helpful for them as well.
Now the film in Hebrew and Spanish with English subtitles will be shown at the 20th Annual San Diego Jewish Film Festival (sponsored by the Mizel Family Foundation) at the AMC La Jolla on Thursday, February 11, at 7:30 PM and at UltraStar La Costa on Saturday, February 13, at 7:30 PM
Click here for the schedule of film festival shows and ticket information.
By Yvonne Greenberg
LA JOLLA, California — In From Ghetto to Ghetto: An African American Journey to Judaism, Dr. Ernest H. Adam’s new book, he movingly describes his childhood living with his family in squalor in a basement apartment in Harlem, his coming of age during the Black Power Era as a young adult, and his journey to Judaism. He converted to Conservative Judaism, fittingly had a Bar Mitzvah at age 50 on Martin Luther King’ Jr.’s birthday, and converted to Orthodox Judaism four years ago.
The 62 year-old Adams, who earned his doctorate in clinical psychology from Columbia University and his law degree from New York University, delivered a serious lecture sprinkled with humor at the JCC on November 8th as part of the San Diego Jewish Book Fair.
Adams, his mom (who became a Jehovah’s Witness), dad, and two sisters lived in The Basement, which was also inhabited by mice, roaches, leeches, and had leaking pipes. It had a putrid smell because it was where garbage was dumped. As bad as The Basement was as a place to live, his parents always tried to keep it clean and livable.
He spoke of first encountering racism at the tender young age of 10 during the Jim Crow Era, when, craving a hamburger, he was unable to enter a White Castle restaurant because, as the sign outside warned, “Whites Only.” He retrospectively determined that the assassination of JFK, which occurred when he was 17, had a profound impact on him. He went to an Automotive Trades High School, which he admittedly had no interest in. In fact, his teachers told his parents that he was too intelligent for that school. After high school he went to work on Wall Street and sported a large afro and wore dashikis to emphasize his Black identity.
He was admitted to NYU as an undergraduate, where he suffered “an intellectual crisis of confidence,” because he felt he was unprepared academically even though he did well in the required courses for the university.
At NYU Law School, he met Meyer Goldstein, with whom he became good friends. Like all good relationships, Adams’ and Goldstein’s friendship flourished because of a mutual capacity to listen and hear, but not judge. His friend’s father, Rabbi Baruch Goldstein, survived Auschwitz but his family perished in the Holocaust. “I could see that Blacks in the United States were subject to the biological theory of race, just like the Jews were subject to such a theory in Germany during the time of Hitler.”
Adams attended Friday night dinners with the Goldsteins “but I couldn’t understand why they had to light the candles and not just turn on the lights.” The rabbi treated Adams like a son, once telling him “even if I had another child I couldn’t do any better.”
Two of his Jewish friends warned him that Orthodox Judaism was racist and rigid, but he discovered that to be untrue, and found the Orthodox to be very welcoming to him.
Adams believes the Torah is the heart of being a Jew and persuasively made the case during his lecture that God’s helping the Israelites was the first example of affirmative action.
During his initial conversion to Judaism from being a “stone cold atheist,” the Rabbi asked Adams whether he had been circumcised. When he replied yes, the Rabbi responded, “Thank goodness!” “In 2005, he converted to Orthodox Judaism. He has visited Israel eight times and has always been well-received there.
Q and A
Why did you chose Judaism when there are other universal religions?
“The Goldsteins opened the door to me. I attended many life cycle events where I got to see Jews up-close- and-personal and these encounters destroyed myths that I had about Jews and Judaism. There is no rational reason why I chose Judaism. I just did.”
In a personal interview he clarified that he belongs to both Conservative and Orthodox synagogues.
He is married to Karen Ruth Sander, a white, Jewish-born Reconstructionist, who at first felt uncomfortable attending the Orthodox services because she didn’t understand Hebrew, but really liked the people. They had a child together, Eliot Akiva Adams, who will be two years old next month.
Adams stressed that they both make compromises with regard to Judaism, except that Adams insists on a kosher kitchen.