"Jews. Eastern Europe. World War II," my fourteen year old son observed upon reading the back of the DVD for the documentary, Life Is Strange. "Yeah, this isn't going to end well."
He's right. Movies with those three elements rarely do. Yet, the uniqueness of Life Is Strange, which will be screening January 24-30 in NYC, is that it focuses not on the ending but, rather, on the beginning.
Life Is Strange, which began as filmmaker Isaac Hertz's attempt to trace a family history and ended up with over two dozen separate reminiscences, unlike most works about the period, focuses not on the destruction, but on what was destroyed.
Spoken word, photographs and rare film footage - both home-movies and news-reels - combine to paint a picture of Jewish life in the early 20th Century - from a child's perspective. We hear stories of hiding under prayer shawls during the High Holy Days, of playing in the woods from sunup to sundown, of Jewish children needing to wheedle their homework out of less than obliging Gentile neighbors when they miss class on Shabbat.
The memories are perfect for middle-schoolers and up who have a hard time believing their grandparents might ever have been young, as well as a gentle, non-graphic introduction to what's about to come historically. For kids who've already engrossed themselves in the subject and so burned out on disaster narrative (see my 14 year old, above), it's a reminder that all history isn't merely a story of pure horror, that there was beauty - and normality - there, too.
In addition, and especially for ambitious, high-achieving kids, among those interviewed in Life is Strange are Walter Kohn, winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, Robert Aumann, winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics, and Shimon Peres, current President of the State of Israel and himself the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. There are also several college professors, distinguished illustrators and noted philanthropists. All talk about what life was like when they were children. And all implicitly remind that great men and women have to start somewhere. Nobody is born a Nobel Laureate. They all had to work for it. And to overcome obstacles that the average American child - God willing - will never, ever have to face.
Friday, Jan. 24 at 1 PM
Saturday, Jan. 25 at 8:30 PM
Sunday, Jan. 26- Thursday, Jan. 30 at 1 PM and 8:30 PM.