Half-remembered kaleidescopes: the Jewish Film Festival's youngest storytellers

Zoe Pollak recalls that tow-headed cupcake eater all kinds of ways in her New Jewish Filmmaking Project creation "Memory Paths"
Photo courtesy of Citizen Films

Could the past be a kaleidescope, a pattern of images that shift with each disturbance of a sudden breeze... and if the shift is everywhere, how would we know?

-Alan Lightman

If heritage remains constant, what changes is the inheritors. In a project that will live in interactive kiosks at the Jewish Film Festival (Sat/24), as well as in our own Internet devices, young artists are using websites to tell tales that only last year would have taken the shape of a movie. Modernity, man. Their theme? “Half Remembered Stories,” subject matter that lends itself to the nebulous, fragmentary nature of our online lives.

Zoe Pollak's multimedia project “Memory Paths,” (which makes use of the above quote from Einstein's Dreams (2004), explores this fluctuating notion of memory. Pollak set 12 videos from her tow-headed childhood to three different sounds 'o thought – quotes from Einstein and other Jewish thinkers, nocturnes by Chopin, heady intellectual musings all of it – on a site that centers around the image of a clock. Her inspiration came from the sense of pending mortality that strikes most recent high school grads. 

“I've been getting nostalgic as it's getting to be time for me to leave for college,” Pollak told me in a phone interview. “For my project, I wanted to look at individual memories I have, like the first day of preschool, and look at how my relationship to that memory has changed over time. Sometimes when I look back at that event, like when I have a lot of homework, I might be very nostalgic, but if I'm reading a very interesting article, I might notice how now I have the ability to process more complicated ideas.”

The project was organized through the New Jewish Filmmaking Project, which hosts documentary producers from Citizen Film helping 11 young digital bards to focus on gaps in recall. It segueways nicely with the panorama of stories invoked in the film festival as a whole, even if the divergent format seems to crown the young storytellers as the new generation.

Although the project did yield one bad ass reflection on the notion of zombie takedown, family history seems to have been a natural choice for many of the participants; a young uncle's overseas death from Hepatitis C is explored, a grandfather's gambling addiction, a great-grandmother that had refused to emigrate to the U.S. if it meant leaving her young lover. 

The latter was the vision of a NJFP participant from year's past, Klaira Markenzon, who in 2004 directed a movie about her family's prolonged stay in their native Ukraine, Leap of Fate. “Half Remembered Stories” sees Markenzon develop that film into an online choose your own adventure book. “I wanted it to be about how every decision can change the rest of your life,” says Markenzon. Elect to have Grandma take that long steerage boat ride to America in Markezon's “game,” and players can find themselves sick, rejected at the gate of Ellis Island and forced to return to the Ukraine, or perhaps Palestine. Immense historical research went into the making of the project. 

“This format is outside of the tradition of beginning, middle, and end,” says Sophie Canstantinou, one of the project's facilitators and co founder of Citizen Film. Her cohort, Sam Ball, told me that the new format of story not only gave young people the opportunity to create their own vision (in place of the collective product of years past), but that it also reflected the gyrations of information culture today. “What's new this year is everything that's going on in this online media, and that the population we're working with spends so much on time engaging in stories – we wanted to see if we could harness that.”

But do the stories pack the same punch on our computer screens as they would have screened in a dark theater? Hard to say, really – but Ball is confident that they are indeed harbingers of a new kind of cultural experience. “Eighty years ago,” he told me “the only way you could see a movie was having a shared, communal experience in a theater. In this new medium you're back to having a communal experience, but its a different one. It's people sitting in environments of their own making, being able to communicate.” Perhaps the past is indeed a kaleidescope: one that calls up a different jewel tone image with each generation's shake of it's mirrors.


The New Jewish Filmmaking Project's “Half Remembered Stories” 

Launch party Sat/24 (through Aug 9) 12:30 p.m., $12 (includes 1:30 p.m. screening of Te Extraño

Castro Theatre

429 Castro, SF



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