Jewish Film Festival
`Thunder In Guyana'
Detroit Central High grad becomes "Madame President."
Special to the Jewish News
uzanne Wasserman grew up hearing lots of sto-
ries about her mother's first cousin, political
activist Janet Rosenberg Jagan.
There were anecdotes about Jagan's move from
Chicago to Detroit, where she graduated from
Central High School and attended the University of
Detroit and Wayne University in the 1940s.
There also were tales of her distant cousin's marriage
to Cheddi Jagan, a Guyanan dentist of Hindu descent
whose romantic interest had been strongly opposed by
both sets ocparents.
What really piqued Wasserman's interest was learn-
ing that her distant relative was about to become
president of Guyana, where she would follow her
husband's presidency after his death in 1997.
Wasserman, who had become a professional his-
torian and associate director of the Gotham
Center for New York City History, decided the
inauguration would be an event to see for herself
Wasserman's cinema project enlarged and
became Thunder in Guyana, which will be shown
3 p.m. Sunday, April 25, at the United Artists
Theatres and 5 p.m. Wednesday, May 5, at
the Michigan Theater. The movie provides a
biography of the former Detroiter in the con-
text of the social and political unrest that
resulted from decades of dictatorship in the
South American nation. Also, in 1978, 19
years before she took office, Guyana was the
site of the Jonestown cult mass-suicide
"I made a point of calling Janet before I made
Ex-Detroiter Jagan, the first American-born Jewish woman
the trip," remembers Wasserman, who attended
Habonim camp in Kalamazoo. "She was reticent at to lead a nation, is considered to be the mother of Guyana.
first because of the press of time, but it all worked
"My years. in Michigan were good," Jagan says. "I
- believe my Judaism made me more militant because
Wasserman's film explains her cousin's experi-
of the anti-Semitism that was happening when I
ences living in Guyana since 1943. She catalogues
was young. I think it pushed me to the left."
the couple's involvement with politics and how
Jagan, who has seen the film, is glad that it gives
their efforts put the two in jail. She also delves
a -sense of the work done by her husband to advance
into the strength of their 54-year marriage and
the country. While she was in office, she tried to
family ties, which came to include a son, daughter further Guyana's involvement in Latin America and
and five grandchildren.
improve conditions for the indigenous people.
Jagan, about to turn 84, remains active with the
"I think this is an important historical story that
People's Progressive Party, founded by her hus-
many people don't know," Wasserman says. "It's
also a story of perseverance and dedication." ❑
A joyride through the Jewish South.
Special to the Jewish News
small-town businessman, an African
American police chief, a boxer and a hoop-
skirted tour guide — all Jewish — are
among the people introduced in Shalom YAll, a
documentary written and directed by Brian Bain.
Bain, who has developed many TV commercials,
follows the route his late grandfather took selling
hats to Southern stores as he presents experiences
Jews have had as a minority group in a very distinc-
The screening (5 p.m. Tuesday, April 27, at
United Artists Theatres) will feature a talk by Bain.
"We've shown this film in 40 cities around the
world, including Jerusalem, and we've been able to
cross social and cultural boundaries," says Bain, who
lives in New Orleans. "People could relate to a small
population whose members often feel like outsiders."
Bain, a third-generation Southerner, traces family
roots to Detroit, where his mother, Joan Dean Bain,
grew up. He has made many trips to the area to visit
with his grandmother, Lillian Title, active with
"I was a psychology major, but I felt I could
make a bigger difference in people's lives by
working on films," Bain explains. "I spent more
than two years in the edit room cutting 30 hours of
footage down to one hour."
Bain's editing work strengthened his feelings of
closeness to his late grandfather. He heard many
stories about the dedicated salesman's early profes-
sion, which involved editing silent films in New
York City before the business moved to Hollywood.
Bain, who won a regional Emmy for his docu-
mentary short film Simon, has directed commercials
for Miller Beer, Sprint and ABC TV.
As Bain traveled 1,400 miles across the South to
find interesting folks to film, he realized how
strongly Jews could assimilate without sacrificing
their Jewish identity.
"Jews in the South seem to stick together," he
says. "I found it a fun place to grow up."
Bain's upcoming projects include a television show
that explores culture, and he will be working with
children along the American-Mexican border. He
feels well prepared by his devotion to Shalom YAll.
"We have a Web site www.shalomyall.com where
we sell items to promote the film," Bain says.
"Among those items are hats so I feel I've become a
peddler and even more like my grandfather." Li
Jay Lehmann of Natchez, Miss., stands in his store,
holding a jar of pickled pigs lips.