Soul Witness, The Brookline Holocaust Witness Project was completed in October 2018. The documentary will screen at the Coolidge Corner Theater on February 28 at 7 pm. The work-in-progress version of the documentary film sold out the Coolidge three times to general audiences. Last year, hundreds of Brookline High School students took part in a field trip to the Coolidge to see the film.
Soul Witness is based on over 80 hours of Holocaust testimonies from local survivors that were conducted by world-renowned testimony expert Lawrence Langer. The testimonies were locked away in a metal storage unit for over 20 years.
All proceeds from the February 28 screening of Soul Witness will go to benefit the Coolidge Corner Theatre Foundation.
“I believe to my core there would not have been a Soul Witness without the Coolidge, which means the witness voices that spent decades in a closet, would still be in that closet,” said Soul Witness producer and director R. Harvey Bravman. “When I work on these projects, I envision them first at the Coolidge. These individuals went through great pain to tell their stories so that we could hear them and more importantly so we could benefit from them. The goal of this project is to finally allow the public to hear their message.”
“All of us at the Coolidge applaud Harvey Bravman for this extraordinary and essential film, which will resonate for generations,” said Coolidge Corner Theatre executive director and CEO Katherine Tallman. “We are proud the work-in-progress sold out our theater three times, and we’re thrilled to share this completed directors cut. Soul Witness exemplifies the Coolidge’s mission to ‘entertain, inform and engage − building a vital community through film culture’ and we are honored to be the beneficiary of this special event.”
The updated version of the film includes new interviews conducted in 2018 of people connected to the original Brookline Holocaust Witness Project (BHWP), which took place from 1990 to 1994.
Bravman included in the new version of the film current interviews he conducted with Holocaust testimony expert Lawrence Langer, former Brookline Human Resource Director Stephen Bressler, Arthur Freedman (nephew of BHWP co-founder, Leon Satenstein); as well as Cheryl Lefman and Dena Salzberg (daughters of survivors featured in the film). The opening in the completed version of the film also includes more information on the original project.
In the late 1980s, Leon Satenstein, a former member of the Kennedy administration, spearheaded an effort to create a living memorial of the Holocaust through testimony interviews. Key participants of that effort included Regina Barshak, who was a survivor and Brookline resident, as well as Stephen Bressler, Brookline’s Human Relations Director at the time the interviews were conducted. Decades later, Brookline’s Chief Diversity Officer, Dr. Lloyd Gellineau, discovered the interview tapes in a metal storage unit and recruited Bravman to produce the documentary.
“I completely immersed myself in the footage,” Bravman said. “Lawrence Langer conducted the most responsible interviews I’ve ever seen. The witnesses were comfortable with him because of his compassion and his knowledge of the subject matter. For the film, I tried to focus on just what the witnesses saw with their own eyes and what I felt they came to say. They wanted us to know that their experiences still affected them, that they still loved the ones they lost, and they never stopped thinking of them and don’t know why they’re the only ones who made it out alive. These are some of the most epic and noble words I’ve ever heard.”
“This film is important both for the stories that survivors share, but also for the way their voices are presented,” said Tracy O’Brien, Facing History and Ourselves vice president and director of library services. The structure and tone of the film “humanizes” these individuals who might otherwise be perceived simply as victims.”
Listen to the NPR Soul Witness Segment here if you don’t see the audio player above.
“We are very moved by Harvey Bravman’s work and see this as an incredibly important film,” said Jenny Amory, Brookline Community Foundation executive director.
The evening will include Bravman speaking about “Story of Soul Witness” and Coolidge Corner Theatre Executive Director; Katherine Tallman will introduce the evening.