Buy Book

Buy DVD
Prisoner of Her Past
Sixty years after the war, a survivor is running and hiding again...

Monthly Archives: July 2010

Published on July 20th, 2010 by admin

Until Tuesday night (July 13), I wondered whether “Prisoner of Her Past” would mean anything to teenagers. Could kids in 21st Century America relate to the story of my mother, who is reliving traumas she experienced in Eastern Europe in WWII?

It all seemed a bit remote.

But the youngsters who crowded into the McCormick Tribune Center at Northwestern University, in Evanston, gave me a swift education in their sophistication, sensitivity and wisdom.

We were screening “Prisoner of Her Past” for journalism students at Northwestern University’s National High School Institute, famously known as the “cherubs” program. Bringing the film here was going to be particularly meaningful for me, because I had been a journalism “cherub” myself – in 1971! And the same Northwestern prof who headed the program back then, Roger Boye, had invited me back to show the movie.

What’s more, two close personal friends would be in the audience: Owen Youngman, a former editor of mine at the Tribune who’s now a Medill professor; and Howard Dubin, an ardent supporter of Medill and of our film, who’s also my cousin.

But as the students settled into their viamedic cialis seats – talking, laughing, joking – I feared they might feel that “Prisoner of Her Past” belonged to some distant time and place. Once the screening began, their silence seemed to confirm my suspicions.

Yet as the story progressed, they gasped at particular passages, laughed at others, then – at the film’s end – burst into shattering applause.

The house lights went up, and they proceeded to shower me with savvy questions: How did it feel to switch from being a lifelong print journalist to working in film? (Thrilling and scary.) How did I deal with the emotion of telling such a personal story? (With some difficulty.) How did I get people in Poland and Ukraine to open up to me? (They seemed eager to talk.) How did my family respond to the idea of making the film? (With tremendous support.) The questions kept coming for over an hour.

Then something even more startling happened. After the Q-and-A session ended, a large group of kids surged to the front of complaint the room to tell me their own stories, one-on-one. Many wept as they recounted what happened to their grandparents in Europe, for sale online and how similar their family narratives were to mine. Others told of relatives who experienced horrors in Japan during World War II … and only reluctantly told their grandchildren the tale.

Over and over, I was struck by the maturity of these students, their awareness of the suffering of their elders and their own heroism in sharing this information with me. Many said they were determined to tell these stories through the course of their careers, to keep the memories alive, to try to help others.

I felt lucky to meet them, talk to them, spend an evening in their presence.

– Howard Reich

Published on July 13th, 2010 by admin

Gordon Quinn & Howard at Tivoli Theater

More than 400 people poured into the Tivoli Theatre in Downers Grove on Monday night (July 12, 2010), to catch “Prisoner of Her Past.”

Just seeing the film’s title sprawled across this theater’s glorious, glittering marquee was a thrill. You don’t encounter movie houses like this very often anymore. The historic theater, which opened in 1928, has been sumptuously restored, complete with gold-painted lobby (real gold), glowing proscenium and 1924 Wurlitzer organ (which rose up from the orchestra pit to thunder once more).

I guess that’s what going to the movies used to be like.

The event was organized by the great After Hours Film Society. Thanks to board member Allen Carter, who has been championing our film, and executive director Debbie Venezia, who introduced it.

The audience seemed thoroughly in sync with the movie, responding robustly to its humor. The Q-and-A session ran for roughly an hour after the screening, and I was especially moved by two groups of people who talked to me later.

First was a trio of college students who said they’d never seen a film quite like this. They then went on to discuss what the movie meant to them, and how it would make them look differently at older people: seniors in their midst, whose personal tragedies often go unspoken. I exulted that young people – just barely out of their teens – now would carry the message of “Prisoner of Her Past” when they talked to their friends.

Next came a group of women who had read the book that inspired the film, “The First and Final Nightmare of Sonia Reich,” as part of their book club. I told them that if they’d like to have another club meeting, this time with the author present, I’d be happy to oblige. I hope they take me up on it.

Anyone who goes to the trouble of placing tabs throughout the book – to highlight key passages – can call me any time.

— Howard Reich

Published on July 7th, 2010 by admin

The long and thrilling process of making “Prisoner of Her Past,” which began in 2004, has ended.

And the journey to bring the film to audiences around the world has begun.

With this first blog entry, I’ll recap where we’ve shown the film so far, as we prepare to take “Prisoner of Her Past” wherever there’s a screen, an audience and, if possible, a popcorn machine.

Feb. 28, 2010, Illinois Holocaust Museum, Skokie. I always hoped to have the first public screening here, in Skokie, where so many survivors (including my parents) converged after the war. The theater was sold out a couple of weeks in advance for this official “sneak preview,” a crush of visitors packing every inch of the place. Patty White, of the museum staff, gave a stirring introduction, and the crowd laughed, cried and sighed at all the key moments. Dr. David Rosenberg, the brilliant Highland Park psychiatrist who diagnosed my mother with late-onset PTSD, spoke eloquently after the film and helped us address an avalanche of questions from the audience. With so many survivors in the audience, it would have been difficult to imagine a more emotionally charged beginning.

April 9-15, 2010, Gene Siskel Film Center, downtown Chicago. We all felt privileged to be given a weeklong run at this prestigious venue, which justly calls itself “Chicago’s premier movie theater.” Barbara Scharres, director of programming at the Siskel, had been a champion of “Prisoner of Her Past” since its inception, telling me years ago that Kartemquin Films was the best company, by far, to bring my mother’s story to the screen. During the course of this week, I saw “Prisoner of Her Past” 14-1/2 times (sorry – I had to run out for food before one screening). Each screening felt different because each audience responded differently. Some laughed loudly at every hint of humor; some gasped audibly at tragic scenes in the film; some sat almost silent, leaving me to guess what they were thinking.

After each showing (most sold-out or close to it), we opened the floor to questions, and they came flooding in: How is your mother today? (About the same.) Will she see the film? (Doubtful). How did people in Ukraine react to you? (Quite helpfully.) Is there any way to help your mother today? (Apparently not.) After every Q-and-A session, some in the audience continued the conversation in the lobby.

The most dramatic screening unfolded on Sunday afternoon, April 11, with a capacity audience attending the official downtown premiere. Scharres and Tribune editor Gerould Kern offered eloquent opening remarks, and all the filmmakers convened on stage afterward for a panel discussion. To see director Gordon Quinn, editor Jerry Blumenthal, producer Joanna Rudnick and associate producer Zak Piper in one place, at one time (which occurs about as frequently as a lunar eclipse) was to realize anew how much talent, time and devotion had made this moment possible.

This event – and every one before and since – was choreographed by unstoppable Xan Aranda, who routinely makes the impossible possible.

Considering the high-toned production values of the Siskel, I realized – for the first time – that we actually had succeeded in making a movie, and that the quest to bring it to viewers around the planet had just begun.

Howard Reich




Site built by Arlen Parsa.