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January 03, 2003 - Image 85

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2003-01-03

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filmmaker Garry
Beitel's "My Dear
Clara" uses love
letters, family
photos, official
correspondence and
rarely seen archival
footage to tell the
story of a Polish
Jewish refugee whose
Canadian wife
battled to change
her government's
policies during
World War II. -

derfully poetic love letters which my
uncle wrote from Poland to my aunt in
Montreal, I realized that I had the raw
material with which I could construct
an archivally based love story," he said.
The movie blends excerpts from
these letters, read by an actor, with
photographs, on-screen interviews
with friends and family members, and
rare archival film.
"It was fascinating for me to discover
the romantic, poetic side of an aunt and
uncle that I knew very differently as I
was growing up with them," Beitel said.
"Especially my uncle, who had
become much more disillusioned after
the war. The letters revealed a young
man deeply in love with my aunt, a for-
ward-looking man for whom no obsta-
cle was a deterrent to his optimism, a
plumber with astute observations about
the situation of Jews in Poland and the
deteriorating world situation.
"He was also my mother's brother,
so I was learning about her and her
world," he said. "It felt like a real priv-
ilege to be allowed inside their world,
inside my family's personal history as
it was being lived."
Beitel's personal involvement imbues
the movie with a sense of discovery
that is almost painfully palpable.
"It's an epic love story, so tangible
that the two protagonists move the
viewer to depths of emotion that don't
usually mark documentary" filmmak-
ing, wrote critic Heather Solomon in
the Canadian Jewish News.

Broader Meaning

Beitel said the exploration had a pro-
found effect on his family as a whole.
As I was reading the letters and recon-
structing the events they experienced
between 1938 and 1947, I felt like I was

becoming the family historian, retrieving
a history from which we had become
disconnected, a history told to us in frag-
ments as we were growing up but one we
never really integrated," he said.
But, he said, the story of his aunt and
uncle had a much broader meaning and
shed new light on the experiences of
Jews in Europe during the Holocaust.
"Telling this story enabled me to
retrace the survival stories of Polish
Jews who had escaped the Nazis to the
Soviet Union — Holocaust stories that
have been so rarely told," he said.
"I grew up feeling that Holocaust sur-
vivors were those people who had sur-
vived the camps and that my parents
weren't really Holocaust survivors because
they had been in Russia," he said.
"Now I understand that their stories
of survival are equally important as sto-
ries of resourcefulness and ingenuity in
the face of the horrors in Europe, and
that their subsequent sadness and devas-
tation after the war is so important for
us, as their children, to understand."
My Dear Clara has been made in
both French- and English-language
versions. 111

My Dear Clara will be screened
12:30 and 6 p.m. Thursday, Jan.
23, at the 12th annual New York
Jewish Film Festival, which runs
Jan. 12-23. Screenings of all films
will be held at the Walter Reade
Theatre at Lincoln Center, 165
W 65th St., New York City.
$9.50/$7 students. For a com-
plete schedule and more informa-
tion, go to the Web site at
wvvw.thejewishmuseum.org .
Tickets are available online at
www.filmlinc.com . Box office:
(212) 875-5600.

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