Years ago we used to keep in touch. As you know, I have been dealing with the history of Jews in Bialystok and this region for years. I have written dozens of articles and several books on this matter, one of which is titled JEWISH BIALYSTOK, which was published in the USA in English. I have drawn up documentation for eight Jewish cemeteries. On my web page www.bagnowka.com (the project is entirely non-profit) there are approximately twenty-thousand photographs of Jewish tombstones whose inscriptions have been translated into English. I am the author of a number of exhibitions, such as the exhibition about Jews in the Holocaust. The very exhibition SNAPSHOTS OF GENOCIDE has travelled almost the entire world (more about this exhibition on http://www.szukamypolski.com/strona/kadry_zaglady)
My short jewish films I made You will find at http://www.museumoffamilyhistory.com/tomek/films.htm
I have been working for a year on a full-length feature film about the Polish-Jewish relationship in Bialystok. The plot is partially based on authentic facts and is full of the inner tension. A young Jewish boy coming from a religious Jewish family falls in love with a Polish girl, who is a Christian. She returns his feelings. Because of how he feels about this girl, he is willing to discard his Jewish religion, and she is willing to do likewise. And this is the part in which the vicissitudes and problems emerge of a moral, religious, and cultural nature.
A feature film is a big project,and this in itself is quite a challenge. At this stage we are unable to produce it due to financing and logistics. That is why I want to begin with a small movie undertaking which hopefully will interest other partners and potential producers. I gave the script to my friends to read, they accepted it, and we then set up a small crew (cameraman, set designer, director, recording engineer and lighting electrician, actors and others). We have also found a superb shooting location, which is perhaps the last district of the pre-war Bialystok that has remained unaltered.
I am writing to you for obvious reasons: we are seeking financial support. Although the pilot will be short (seven to ten minutes long), I am already aware that its production will involve a great deal of expense. Although some of us (including myself) will be working on the project on a non-profit basis, many expenses are unavoidable (props and scenery, and other inevitable production-related costs).
My plan--perhaps it is naïve--assumes that the project would be supported by Jews who come from Bialystok or who are descendants of Bialystokers, i.e. those who can trace their roots back to the Bialystok-Grodziensk region. I also hope to gain support from those who perceive the project as meaningful, who would be most welcome to participate. I also would like representatives of both nations to be participants in this project, and thus we will also turn to Polish companies and businesses, currently operating in Bialystok, for their financial support.
We would like to present the pilot as the product of our efforts, at a film festival (it could be San Francisco Jewish Film Festival; this has not yet been decided). Should our film win recognition, it will be easier for us to raise money for the entire project, which is the full-length feature film. Maybe we will be successful enough to find a film producer willing to cooperate with us.
What sum of money am I hoping for? I am thinking of a one-time donation of five hundred dollars. We will request a similar amount, in Polish zloty, from businesses in Bialystok. We have received a declaration of support from the mayor of Bialystok. I estimate that the amount of fifteen thousand dollars should be sufficient to carry out our undertaking. All of the names of the people involved, as well as the names of companies financing the project, will be mentioned in our film (by first and last name, and by place of residence). All financial matters shall be duly accounted.
With kindest regards,
P.S. I have enclosed a draft of my film script – a starter of sorts for the bigger project we would like to produce in Bialystok.
Black and white. "The Pencil”. Starter.
1. Distant shot: an outline of dense town architecture (2 -3 takes)
- town/city (a shot without elements of contemporary, modern architecture)
- close-up: a maze of roofs, chimneys, condominium-like in character
2. Shot: a yard, condominium-like in character. 3 girls are playing hopscotch. One first-floor window open. Below it - the entrance to the building (staircase).
- shot of yard, from above. Nobody to be seen, but you can hear girls' voices
- shot of yard, from below. Girls are playing hopscotch. In the background, the entrance gate that leads into the yard.
- The girls are playing hopscotch. Close-up shot: in the background above you can see the windows, one of which is open.
- visible are 2 signs (the tailor's, and the name of the caretaker with the number of the apartment; 1 sign in Polish and Jewish (yiddish), the other only in Polish.
3. Interior shot. A woman is stirring soup in a pot. Shot of soup. In the background: a boy reading something, (studying?), playing with a pencil, behind him clear shot of an open window. In the background: sounds of conversation (in Polish), jumping, something hitting against the cobblestones, sounds of throwing stones, girls' giggling.
- Shot: through the enfilade, from the direction of the entrance to the apartment. A woman, her kitchen, in the background her son, an open window.
- Shot: a hand stirring soup in the pot.
- Shot: the contents of the pot. One can see the soup, pieces of meat, dumplings.
- Close-up: the boy, clearly absent-minded, moves the pencil from one hand to the other, looks back to his mother with a worried expression.
- Close-up: a notebook, a book in Hebrew, a few Hebrew sentences scribbled in pencil.
- The boy glances at the window.
- Shot: the mother looks at the son. She stops stirring the soup. She rattles the soup ladle gently against the pot.
- The son, resigned, returns to his lessons.
4. Shot from below. 3 girls are playing hopscotch. One sees, from the side, 2 Jewish girls (in long stockings) approach the wall, stop, and begin a quiet conversation (a few sentences each) in yiddish. It is, however, only a pretext to look up. Upstairs, one of the windows is ajar, and now and again a boy wearing a skullcap looks out and gazes down.
- The girls are playing hopscotch. Behind them, in the background, one can see 2 Jewish girls approach the wall. They look on with dislike and, excited, discuss something (in yiddish).
- Close-up: the Jewish girls, one of whom looks up now and then at the empty, open window.
- The same shot, but from the window. One can see the girls playing hopscotch. One of them looks up now and then at the window, just like one of the Jewish girls.
- Shot from below – another shot. The boy again looks out the window, gazes down as if bored, but with a „blurry” expression in his eyes at one girl, then the other. You hear the sound of something hitting against metal (soup ladle against the pot)
- The boy is sitting hunched at his desk, this time the pencil is lodged behind his ear, and crams thoughtlessly his Hebrew verses. He is clearly not concentrating, he turns the pages, bites his nails, moves objects on his desk, consults a Polish-Jewish dictionary (7-10 shots of details, contents of the desk, bookshelf, ink, others). He takes the pencil, twirls it around, is clearly pretending to study.
- Shot from below. Three girls are playing hopscotch, two Jewish girls are standing against the wall, looking on, both now and again look at the window, in which some two times appears and disappears the face of the boy.
- Shot: mother, whose gaze returns to the kitchen, looks for something in the cupboard, adds some spices to the pot. But, whatever she does, she watches over her son and, routinely, bangs the ladle against the pot. She clearly suspects that her son does not apply himself to his study.
5. Although the boy controls himself as much as he can, he can't bear it much longer. Enters the boy's father.
- Close-up: a hand twirling the pencil made by ("St. Majewski, Pruszków”, a pre-war manufacturer).
- Close-up: the boy (from the direction of the window), is clearly „getting ready”, places the pencil behind his ear, looks at his mother (who has disappeared somewhere) and immediately looks out the window.
- Shot from below (but one cannot see the girls, only the sound of their playing). The boy looks out the window (first floor), he is clearly in two minds, he looks here and there.
- The same situation, but this time one cannot see the boy. One of the Polish girls stops and raises her head.
- Shot from the window onto the yard. At the moment that the girl gazes at the boy, into the yard enters a man in Jewish garb, his head down, and walks quickly towards the staircase (located below the window out of which the boy looks out).
- The Jewish girls straighten up and bow politely, and the Polish girls stop their play for a moment and gaze at the man in the kapoteh with interest, and a slight smile (not contempt).
- One of the Polish girls, the one who is "flirting" with the Jewish boy, says in Polish „Good morning, Mr. Hirsh”. The elderly Jew, engrossed in his thoughts, does not answer, notices no one, and disappears up the staircase.
- Another shot: the man enters the building, the camera pans up, one can see the boy disappear from the window.
6. The boy continues playing his game. These shots are very fast (very brief cuts)
- The boy is watchful. He tidies up his desk, he places the Polish-Jewish dictionary on the shelf so that one can't see the spine, makes a show of piling up his books, moves the ink, writes a short sentence in Hebrew on a sheet of paper (2 shots?)
- From the window. The frame is filled by a blurred shot of the boy's ear with the pencil behind it. The father enters, kisses the mezuzah in the doorframe, and somewhat peremptorily greets the mother. He hangs his kapoteh (one cannot see the hanger). He disappears inside an invisible door, one hears the door bang. Silence, invaded by ever louder sounds of the yard and the playing girls.
- The boy, once again, stooped, as if frozen.
- The Hebrew letters come into focus, then, suddenly, with a shout from outside, they blur. From the window above the boy's window one hears a thunderous shout: „Jad?ka! Homework!”
- Shot from the kitchen. The boy automatically leans out the window.
- Shot: below. The girls have stopped their play and are gazing up at the window above the boy's. Suddenly 2 of them return to their game, and the girl – the one who flirts with the boy - lowers her gaze and looks ostentatiously at Lejb.
- Shot: the boy, frozen at the window, an empty window above him. The boy does not know that the girl's father has disappeared inside it. There is no one at that window.
- Shot of the girl, who, pronouncing her words theatrically, shouts at the empty window so that the boy can hear her clearly . „Dad, I have asked you to call me Jadwiga!”.
18 Lejb, enchanted, gazes at the girl. One of his hands is resting on the window sill, the other writes unconsciously (in pencil, in Hebrew) "Jadwiga". (2 – 3 shots).
7. This time the boy is caught red-handed.
- The mother is standing just behind the boy, but he cannot hear her at all. Frozen, he gazes down. His left hand is resting against the sill, and the right hand, holding the pencil at a weird angle, is scratching something involuntarily on a piece of paper.
- The mother gazes at the hand that writes something on the piece of paper.
- The woman leans lower. The boy inadvertently writes the same word in Polish, in Hebrew, and in Yiddish, in various ways, making numerous mistakes. The word is „Jadwiga, Jadzia, Adzia, Idzia”.
- The mother grabs the pencil from the boy's hand.
- The boy turns his head violently. Terrified, he stares at his mother.
- The mother enunciates, very slowly, through clenched teeth (in yiddish): „Don't even think about it!”
- The mother is shaken. She moves into the kitchen with the pencil in her hand and throws it mechanically into the pot.
8. The boy, resigned, returns to his studies.
- The boy leans lower and lower over his Hebrew book.
- The Hebrew letters slowly come into focus.
- Again, momentarily – in a flash – as if he couldn't help himself, the boy gets up, looks out the window, and immediately returns.
- The yard is empty.
- Shot (from the direction of the yard): the empty window, ajar. In it, momentarily, appears the boy's father, to shut the window with a loud bang.
- Shot: identical to the one at the beginning. The mother is cooking soup, the father leaves the boy's room, disappears, the frame is filled with the figure of the boy, studying. The closed window.
- The mother is cooking soup, staring unconsciously into space.
- Shot: the soup, stirred; to its surface there floats up the pencil.