Films by Aviva Kempner
YOO-HOO, MRS. GOLDBERG | PARTISANS OF VILNA | CASUE | THE LIFE AND TIMES OF HANK GREENBERG | ROSENWALD | MOE BERG | TODAY I VOTE FOR MY JOEY
Aviva Kempner’s Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg looks at the life and career of Gertrude Berg, the creator, writer and star of The Goldbergs , a popular 1930s radio show that was subsequently a weekly TV program. Berg pioneered the family-based sitcom format that has proven to be television’s most durable and popular genre, it has been great for viewers for a long time. More remarkably, she did it by presenting America with an outwardly Jewish family that wore its immigrant heritage on its sleeve. The film also examines the stand Berg took against McCarthyism when she refused to fire her long-time co-star Philip Loeb – who resigned to prevent the cancellation of the show and later committed suicide.
Partisans of Vilna is a feature-length documentary film that explores Jewish resistance during World War II. It recounts the untold tale of the moral dilemmas facing Jewish youth who organized an underground resistance in the Vilna ghetto, and fought as partisans in the woods against the Nazis. The film features 40 interviews in Hebrew, Yiddish and English, with the former partisans in Israel, New York City, Montreal and Vilna, interspersed with rare archival footage from 1939-1944.
In keeping with The Ciesla Foundation’s tradition of bringing to the forefront the stories of lesser known heroes, Casuse is the story of Larry Casuse, a young Native American activist and inspiration to his peers. Growing up in Gallup, New Mexico, he witnessed the rampant alcoholism, racism and poverty imposed upo
n his Navajo people. Attending the University of New Mexico, Casuse worked hard to organize his fellow students and fight to improve the lives of his tribe. Frustrated by his inability to affect change through the system and influenced by the tumultuous political climate of the early 70’s, Casuse kidnapped the Mayor of Gallup to publicly expose the hypocrisy of the establishment. He died in a shootout on March 1, 1973. He is considered a hero to his people.
In the 1930s Jewish mothers would ask their sons: “What kind of day did Hank have?” Hank Greenberg, the Detroit Tigers slugger who came close to breaking Babe Ruth’s homerun record, was baseball’s first Jewish star. Tall (6’4″), handsome, and uncommonly good-natured, Greenberg was a secular Jew from the Bronx who became “the baseball Moses,” an icon for everyone from Walter Matthau (“I joined the Beverly Hills tennis club to eat lunch with him. I don’t even play tennis”) to Alan Dershowitz (“I thought he’d become the first Jewish president”). Aviva Kempner’s loving tribute is chock full of wonderful archival footage from the ’30s and ’40s and interviews with a self-effacing Greenberg and many of his Tiger teammates. Plus Mandy Patinkin’s rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” — in Yiddish!
Rosenwald is a documentary on the incredible story of how businessman and philanthropist Julius Rosenwald joined with Booker T. Washington and African-American communities in the South to build over 5,500 schools for educating African-American youth during the early part of the 20th century. This historical partnership as well as the modern-day attempts to maintain or reconfigure the schools is a great dramatic story, yet too little known.
Award-winning filmmaker Aviva Kempner has another little known Jewish hero in her camera lens and is making the first feature-length documentary about Morris “Moe” Berg, an enigmatic baseball player turned spy.
Berg grew up in an immigrant Jewish family in Newark, New Jersey. He caught and fielded for five American baseball teams from the 1920s through 1939 during baseball’s Golden Age. Berg also had a secret life spying on the Japanese during his time with the All American team’s tour of Japan and later working for the U.S. Office of Strategic Services (OSS) during World War II. He played a prominent role in U.S. efforts to undermine the German atomic bomb program and is now remembered most as the catcher who was a spy. Berg is considered a hero especially to American Jews. Read more about Moe Berg.
Kempner’s film is currently in production with scheduled release during the 2019 baseball season. The film will feature rare historical footage as well as revealing interviews with celebrities and other individuals from the worlds of sports, espionage, history and more.
This new film will reveal why Casey Stengel, manager and player, called Moe Berg “the strangest man to ever play baseball.”
Today I Vote for My Joey is a tragic comedy about the 2000 Presidential Elections in Palm Beach County. The twenty-minute short depicts a group of older, feisty Jews and a Haitian nurse going to vote proudly for the first Jewish Vice-Presidential candidate, Senator Joe Lieberman. Their day is ruined when they find they mistakenly voted for their nemesis, Pat Buchanan. Also addressed are the issues of voting rights in our democracy, especially for those denied them in “the old country” and Haiti. Starring Lillian Adams, Eve Brenner, Larry Gelman, Rowena King, Eve Sigall and Roberta Wallach. Edited by Steve Kemper (Face/Off and Windwalkers) and shot byDavid Waldman.