Novelist and survivor Aharon Appelfeld stated, “After the death of the last witnesses, the remembrance of the Holocaust must not be entrusted to historians alone. Now comes the hour of artistic creation.” I am working with director Richard Kroehling to make BE•HOLD, a cinematic film that explores poetry written about the Holocaust. We showcase poems by survivors, their descendants, and modern poets, both Jews and non-Jews, encountering and struggling with the Shoah and its aftereffects. The poems are presented by poets, survivors, actors and people from all walks of life, creating a deep well of voices responding to evil.
My parents were born in Germany. When he was sixteen, my father was arrested on Kristallnacht (two days of rioting sanctioned by the Nazi government on November 9 and 10, 1938) and sent to Dachau. In 1936, my mother was six years old when she was backed up against a wall at school, and kids threw rocks at her because she refused to say “Heil Hitler.” Her parents got her out to a Jewish girls’ orphanage in Amsterdam, the Israelitisch Meijesweishaus. There were one hundred and four girls. Four survived. My mother came to America with her parents and an older sister. My father’s parents, his older sister and younger brother were murdered in Auschwitz. My parents lost over ninety-five percent of their extended families in concentration camps. I want to make BE•HOLD to honor my family, those who survived and those who did not, and to honor all the murdered, the survivors, their descendents, and those who fought against the Nazis.
The team making the film is Richard Kroehling, an Emmy Award winning director who filmed “A. Einstein: How I See the World” with William Hurt for PBS, and Lisa Rinzler, a multi-award winning cinematographer who has worked with Wim Wenders and Martin Scorcese. I met Richard at a conference less than three months after my father died, and we talked about our mutual love of poetry. Two weeks later, we decided to make BE•HOLD. We talked for almost a year, discussing our vision, poems and poets we wished to film and ways to raise funds. I was observing the traditional Jewish year of mourning for my father, and many times this film felt as if it were a gift from him. It gave me a goal, something to focus on.
Lawrence Ferlinghetti said, “Poetry the shortest distance between two humans.” To shorten that distance between what can be spoken and what cannot is another reason we want to make BE•HOLD. Richard and I are driven by the possibilities of expanding the limits of what is purely literary and purely visual, and we believe that the language of poetry and the language of cinema can be brought together for profound and powerful results. We watched them collide and were there to capture on film what happened. During each filming, a poetic moment took over and the result was different than what we had planned for and was always more than we expected.
Grant writing is new for me. I have trouble wrapping my head around the idea of quantifying art. I’m still not sure I know what funders are asking for after writing grant proposals this past year. I understand that funders need to know where their money is going and that a project they fund will be a success. It’s different than writing creatively. In a poem, if I know where I’m going, know everything I want to say, there’s nothing left to discover or surprise me in my writing. This is what I'd like to do: meet with a potential funder and say, “I can’t give you a pitch – I’m not a fundraiser. I’m a poet and teacher, and here’s why I’m passionate about BE•HOLD and why this film matters.”
On grant applications, I complete sections such as: log line, short and long description of the film, summary of content and objectives, narrative treatment, timeline, and director’s vision, then upload a producer, director and cinematographer bio and filmography, upload the progress reel, fill out the budget form, list monies raised and funding sources, and describe marketing and distribution plans. The next question asks what kind of metrics will be used to show that the film is a success. I understand why most of my artist friends don't apply for grants.
Trying to make a film that is doing something new is difficult. There are so many people applying for grants from the organizations that give them to filmmakers. I continue to fill out proposals and raise funds. Richard and I believe in BE•HOLD and that it offers a unique approach to Holocaust remembrance, that it imparts the ongoing relevance of the Shoah: that the past is not simply in the past, but rather a vital part of the present and future.