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