Five minutes into my interview with “Vishniac” director Laura Bialis, who was Zooming from her home in Tel Aviv, she heard a siren, quickly apologized, and ran out of the room to join her family in their safe room.
The American-Israeli filmmaker returned 10 minutes later and we restarted our interview for the Boulder Jewish Film Festival. (All “Vishniac” ticket holders will find the fascinating interview in their inboxes when they get home from the screening on November 9 at the Dairy Arts Center’s Gordon Gamm Theater.)
In the first half of the interview Bialis shared her experience in Israel over the past few weeks. In the second half, she discussed her latest film about the legendary photographer Roman Vishniac – a project she began in 2014 but which dates back to the ‘90s, when she first met Vishniac’s daughter Mara, who was to become instrumental in the making of the documentary. Bialis’s 13-year-old daughter Lily plays Mara in several reenactment scenes.
“Vishniac,” a portrait of the artist best known for his images of shtetl life before it was wiped from existence by the Holocaust, is part of the Boulder Jewish Film Festival’s Vanished World series focusing on Jewish life in pre-war Eastern Europe.
The last film Bialis made was “Rock in the Red Zone,” which we showed at the festival in 2016. In this stunning documentary, Bialis explored the vibrant music scene in Sderot, a long besieged Israeli town a half-mile from the Gaza border where its 30,000 residents have just a few seconds to get to the closest bomb shelter when missiles launched from Gaza rain down.
On October 7, Bialis was in Tel Aviv but her son and daughter were with their father in Sderot when it came under brutal attack. Bialis wrote about the harrowing experience in an article for the Jerusalem Post, which you can READ HERE.
She was back in Sderot – only an hour’s drive from Tel Aviv – the day before our interview and described the heart-breaking signs of death and the massive destruction in this ghost town, which has been evacuated by the IDF, save for a few people unable or unwilling to leave. Hamas terrorists had stormed the police station, killing all the officers. Later, because two terrorists were still hiding inside, the IDF blew up the building.
Bialis also shared a part of the Israeli experience that she suspected was not being covered in the media. She said she was actually happy she was in Israel rather than the US at the time of the Hamas massacre because everyone there is united in their grief, horror, and shock. When Israelis dare venture out, a shared recognition of the atrocities can be read on every face. All the divisions – between left and right, religious and secular – have disappeared, she notes. The Orthodox are feeding the soldiers. Non-reservists are volunteering to serve in such numbers that there are insufficient military supplies. The signs of solidarity are everywhere.
As to what will come next, she says no one knows or dares guess. Things change hourly, she says, and Israelis are left living in the terrifying moment, waiting for the next siren.
For tickets to “Vishniac,” which screens Thursday, Nov. 9 at 3 pm in the Dairy Arts Center’s Gordon Gamm Theater, click here.