Filmmakers Roberta Grossman (left) and Agnieszka Holland
Filmmakers Roberta Grossman (left) and Agnieszka Holland

Women filmmakers to discuss their works on Polish Jewish history

On Nov. 18, two of the shining lights among contemporary Jewish women filmmakers will engage in a live, online conversation about the different ways they tell the stories of Poland’s Jews.

Co-hosted by the Taube Center for the Renewal of Jewish Life in Poland and the Warsaw International Jewish Film Festival, the webinar will feature veteran California documentarian Roberta Grossman (“Hava Nagila: The Movie”) and the internationally acclaimed Polish filmmaker Agnieszka Holland (“Europa, Europa”). Shana Penn, executive director of Bay Area-based Taube Philanthropies, will be the moderator.

The Taube Center in Poland has for years organized Taube Jewish Heritage Tours to Poland. “But since the pandemic has restricted international travel, it was decided that we would instead bring Poland to America,” Penn said.

The result has been TJHTalks, a series of virtual events about Polish Jewish history and culture that have drawn participants from all over the world.

TJHTalks No. 9, which is titled “From Behind the Camera: Polish Jewish Narratives,” will allow the filmmakers to discuss their substantial body of cinematic work about Polish Jewish life, historical figures, the Holocaust and other themes.

After the publication of her 2003 book, “Solidarity’s Secret: The Women Who Defeated Communism in Poland,” Penn went to Los Angeles to discuss with Holland a possible film version, and they have remained in touch since then.

Holland was born in Poland to a Jewish father and Catholic mother, and studied film in Prague, where she was arrested and imprisoned during the Prague Spring pro-democracy demonstrations of 1968. Her 1991 film “Europa Europa” brought her to the attention of Hollywood, and she since has directed a wide variety of films and TV series in the U.S., including “The Wire” and “House of Cards.” Much of her own film work engages with the complex relationships between Poles of different faiths. Her most recent film, this year’s “Charlatan,” is a biographical drama about a renowned Czech healer who ran afoul of the postwar Communist government; it was shown in October at the Mill Valley Film Festival.

Grossman, a director and producer, recently was honored with the 2020 Global Jewish Peoplehood Award from Taube Philanthropies. Her compelling docudrama “Who Will Write Our History,” about the keepers of the secret archives of the Warsaw Ghetto during World War II, has been widely screened since it made its world premiere in Palo Alto in the 2018 San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.

She also explored Jewish themes in “Hava Nagila: The Movie” (2012) and “Above and Beyond,” a 2014 film about Jewish American World War II-era pilots who volunteered to fight for Israel in its 1948 War of Independence,

She is currently at work on a documentary about the Russian American photographer Roman Vishniac.

“I believe that film is the most powerful medium in which to tell historical stories and, to me, very few histories are as compelling as the Jewish story,” Grossman said after receiving the Peoplehood award. “To receive this award from Taube Philanthropies is especially meaningful, not only because they have been so supportive of my work, but because we share our deep commitment to the Jewish people in all its messy and beautiful complexity and diversity,” Grossman said.

“From Behind the Camera: Polish Jewish Narratives”

11 a.m. Nov. 18. Free. For Zoom link, register in advance. A recording will be available for later viewing.

Laura Pall
Laura Paull

Laura Paull is J.'s Culture Editor, and was a longtime J. freelance writer before that.