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From Darkness, a Light for Future Generations: Student Filmmakers Prep for Premiere of Holocaust Survivor Documentary

posted Mar 27, 2012, 11:07

From darkness, a light for future generations Student filmmakers prep for premiere of Holocaust survivor documentary.

(Fleetwood, PA) It has taken Frank Grunwald 66 years to tell his story, and students at Fleetwood Area High School 22 months to document it.

On April 16 at the Miller Center for the Arts at Reading Area Community College, the two journeys will finally come to a crossroad.

"Misa's Fugue," a 90-minute film that weaves art, music, history and technology with emotion and inspiration, will premiere with the extraordinary story of Holocaust survivor Frank "Misa" Grunwald.

History shows that nearly 1.5 million children were murdered during the Holocaust between 1933 and 1945. Grunwald was one of fewer than 300 children to escape death from the "camp-ghetto" at Terezin (or Theresienstadt) in the Czech Republic, a facility used by the Nazis as a tool of deception.

Grunwald is now 79, and living in Fishers, Indiana. More than 66 years after his liberation, the twists, turns and torments of his four-year ordeal and miraculous survival have been artfully documented by a collaboration of nearly 200 students and 10 teachers at Fleetwood Area High School.

Grunwald and his family will travel to Reading for the premiere. He will get to meet, greet and embrace the scores of "strangers" who have passionately examined his life for nearly two years.

"I will be less concerned about my feelings than I am about the feelings of future generations," said Grunwald, when asked about his emotions while watching the film's debut.

"A personal story is always more powerful than just hearing that millions of people were murdered and never seeing their faces," he said.

The word fugue, derived from 16th century French or Latin, offers distinct definitions. Musically, it's a composition or score in two or more voices that repeatedly address point and counterpoint. Clinically, it reflects loss of identity and subsequent flight from a life trauma.

"We wanted the film to visually depict a fugue," explained Sean Gaston, a communications teacher at Fleetwood, and the producer and director of the film. "If you examine the parallels of Frank's story, it's like all these different melodies are woven together," he said.

Jennifer Goss, a 10th-year social studies teacher at Fleetwood and noted Holocaust educator, is the film's historical consultant and co-producer. She agreed with many of her students who claim the project has been a "life changing" experience. "It has consumed every spare second of our lives for nearly two years," Goss said. "It's become just so much more than a simple film."

"Misa's Fugue" began with Gaston's happenstance introduction to Grunwald in Indiana more than 22 months ago. Gaston, who spent 15 years in the motion picture industry before joining Fleetwood's academic staff, left the meeting with an epiphany and some furious scribbles on a napkin. From those moments, Gaston has been all in.

Hundreds of artifacts appear in the film, some emerging "out of nowhere," Gaston said, during the lengthy discovery process. Perhaps the most touching example is a hastily written letter by Grunwald's mother to his father moments before trucks took her to the gas chamber.

"We were about 14 months into the project when Frank casually mentions to us that a relative in Europe might have some 8mm film of his family from the 1930s," recalled Gaston. "That's an amazing find. So now we have a few clips in the film. The project evolved in directions we never expected, and took on a life of its own."

Looking beyond the premiere, the project team plans to create and distribute DVDs that offer "Misa's Fugue" at nominal pack-and-ship costs to high schools, non-profits and museums that illuminate Holocaust history. Funding from backers such as the Jewish Federation of Reading, the Albright College Holocaust Resource Center, the Pennsylvania Holocaust Education Council, local synagogues and many anonymous donors are enabling that plan, as well as other education partnership projects.

There will also be local theatre showings, the potential of a book and the hope of lasting education partnerships with Holocaust institutions throughout the world. "We're just happy we can finally share this story," Goss said. "But it's one phase over and another phase beginning, turning the page and getting this message out to as many people as possible."

Gaston has been humbled by the experience and grateful for the opportunity. He promised to "exhale" after the premiere, but realized the importance of the work was just now beginning.

"This man trusted me with his legacy," he said, noting his life will forever be galvanized by his friendship with Frank Grunwald. "It is a huge responsibility that I never took lightly.

"I hope everyone who sees this film realizes the underlying message of education that goes beyond a classroom, a textbook, a standardized test," Gaston said. "This is a lesson and an experience about humanity these kids will remember the rest of their lives."

"Misa's Fugue" was exclusively created using Apple technology and Apple postproduction software. Each of the 10 Mac Pro computers in the school's lab was tied to the project, managing transcription, production, cutting and editing. The Final Cut Studio editing suite has been the workhorse application, but Pages, iPhoto, iMovie and Keynote have all been integrated in the process.

Beginning in May, educators interested in receiving a copy of "Misa's Fugue" should follow for more information. The official film trailer is now available for viewing on this site.



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