Arts & Culture Films

Canadian film shown at Hong Kong Jewish Film Festival


Enjoying the 13th Hong Kong Jewish Film Festival on Ohel Leah Synagogue's Young Professional Night of screenings are (from left): Simmie Magid from Toronto who has lived in Hong Kong for 17 years, Rabbi Asher Oser of Ohel Leah, Myron Elias visiting from Israel to volunteer, and George Moya who has worked with the festival for three years. (Photo: Eva Cohen) Enjoying the 13th Hong Kong Jewish Film Festival on Ohel Leah Synagogue's Young Professional Night of screenings are (from left): Simmie Magid from Toronto who has lived in Hong Kong for 17 years, Rabbi Asher Oser of Ohel Leah, Myron Elias visiting from Israel to volunteer, and George Moya who has worked with the festival for three years. (Photo: Eva Cohen)

 

Eva Cohen

Special to the Tribune

 

Heart of Auschwitz is a gripping story of a Montreal film director who seeks out the names of women written in a heart-shaped booklet created in secret during the Holocaust.

The film has been screened at several prominent Jewish film festivals, including in Canada, the US and Israel, but director Carl Leblanc says he is amazed and honoured the production is making its debut in Asia at the Hong Kong Jewish Film Festival.

“I’ve been with the movie in a few places around the world and it’s amazing the effort to keep alive the memory by the Jewish community,” said Leblanc. “I’m really happy people in Asia will be able to hear the story.”

Leblanc was inspired to create Heart of Auschwitz after visiting the Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre Museum with his son, where he saw on display a booklet in the shape of a heart. This booklet contains the names of numerous women who were working at the munitions factory at Auschwitz and Leblanc tracked down the woman named Fania, who donated it, to begin unraveling the individual stories of those who wrote their names.

“When I was working on the project, I faced a lot of doubts, essentially from people who think we talk too much about the Shoah, but not being a Jew myself, what I’m trying to explain is you never have enough of a memory,” Leblanc shares. “If we mention other genocides like Rwanda or Darfur, then you’re right, not enough has been said about those, but that doesn’t mean you should be skeptical about the fact you have to keep alive the memory of the Holocaust. There is no competition between memories.”

Andrew Noble, vice-president of distribution for Filmoption, the company that distributes Heart of Auschwitz, says when Leblanc showed him and a colleague the documentary’s rough cuts, they were in tears.

“It’s not really a historical film about Auschwitz, but rather it deals with human beings and their attraction with this card and each other and how they lived through this horrible period in history,” Noble said. “It’s a much more hopeful story with what we normally associate with films about the Holocaust.”

An unexpected side effect to the project, said Noble, is through its reach by screening at film festivals, he periodically receives calls from people who say things such as, “my mother is one of the people named in the film, can we be sent a copy to show to our family and friends?” Noble said he gladly responds to these requests.

The Hong Kong festival is Asia’s first Jewish film festival and is in its 13th year, having screened more than 225 of the best Jewish-themed films from around the world.

Festival founder and director Howard Elias said it’s an uplifting experience to share movies like Heart of Auschwitz with an audience in Asia for the first time.

“It’s very exciting, especially when Chinese people tell me that they are moved,” Elias said. “It shows how universal some of these stories are.”

Heart of Auschwitz was screened with Chinese subtitles on the festival’s last day, Nov. 18. The film is also one of two that are part of the festival’s community service effort, where they offer schools the chance to host their own screening. The Hong Kong Holocaust and Tolerance Centre is working with the festival to go to schools to present the films to the students and to answer their questions after the screenings.

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