Adventures while making Carpati

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Adventures While Making Carpati

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The Journey to the Carpathians–an Adventure

    This was a film we knew had to be made–now or never. Every year, the Jewish community in Carpati, the home of Hasidism, the birthplace of many well-known Jewish philosophers and rabbis, the home at one time of the largest percentage of Jewish farmers of the world, an area from which a beautiful culture grew, was disappearing. Jews in this region who survived the Holocaust and who had not already moved to Israel or America were dying of old age.

    While I was editing The Last Klezmer, the previous film directed by Yale Strom, he kept mentioning the film he wanted to make about the Carpathian Mountains, and I wanted to help make it happen. Once The Last Klezmer was completed, we began to think more seriously about the Carpathian Mountains and about making a film about this region.

    We knew the film had to be made now–before all was gone.

    We ended up going twice to Carpati. During the first trip we told the Ukrainian border guards that we were students doing folk music research. It was the end of summer, and we ate every meal outside Zev’s home under the shade of a walnut tree, next to the chicken coup, and in sight of Zev’s modest but flourishing backyard farm.

    We learned during this first visit that the town of Vinogradov, where Zev was born and lived until being deported as a young teen, had no Torah. Upon returning to the U.S., our energy was put solely toward finding this town a Torah.

    I faxed and called literally around the world, looking for a Torah, which can cost anywhere from $15,000 to $25,000. I decided I wouldn’t stop until I found one. One day I got a call from a man on the board of a shul in the Los Angeles valley. He had seen my letter in the local Jewish paper. This synagogue, 45 minutes from my house by car, came through with a Torah for us. If I would have known that it would come from so nearby I could have saved a lot of money on faxes! There is an old Jewish story told by Carpati Hasidim which teaches sometimes you have to go searching far from home to find what is right there in your home all along.

    On our second trip we brought this Torah with us. We also brought other supplies for the Jewish schools in the region donated by friends of mine in Los Angeles. The Torah was a strange item, and I was concerned the Ukrainian soldier would be suspicious and give us trouble. We went to the NY Ukrainian consulate and they wrote us an official letter that we could bring on our journey saying the Torah was approved, we were guests, and we should be treated accordingly.

    A Torah must be treated with a special honor, like a human being. Delta Airlines donated an extra seat for the Torah. We even buckled the seat belt for it. We flew into Budapest, and continued by train to the border of Hungary and Ukraine.

    At the border check, the Ukrainian soldiers read our letter and checked our passports. They were intrigued by these Americans. Yale tightly held the Torah as he carefully stepped down the snow covered train steps, and I started to unload our equipment from the train as quickly as possible. My small baggage carrier became overloaded, and it fell over into the snow. A Ukrainian border guard soldier rushed over to help me, and then another. Imagine this–together, the soldiers, Yale, and I carried production equipment and school supplies over the border. We were whisked through customs, and in ten minutes were free to continue into Ukraine.

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Notes from the Director of Carpati, Yale Strom

Understanding the Carpathians, From Producer David Notowitz

A Few Notes on the Equipment Used

    Carpati was created over an 18 month span. Two and a half weeks of shooting during Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur in September of 1994 and 10 days of shooting during Passover in April of 1995 gave us some 50 hours of footage which we edited down to an 80 minute film.

    We used a small Sony VX-3 camera, a Hi-8 video camera which gives a beautiful image and that is the size of many home consumer video cameras. This allowed us to travel light and to make a documentary that would have been much more difficult with larger equipment. I could shoot all day walking all over town doing hand held camera work without tiring. Yale and I know how to get the low budget job done, or as we like to say about Carpati, we know how to get a “no-budget” project done.

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