Sie ist Drehbuchautorin, Produzentin und zudem eine der erfolgreichsten Filmemacherinnen der jüdischen Filmgeschichte. Die heute 60-jährige Aviva Kempner hat sich vor allem mit ihren cineastischen Meisterwerken wie The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg (1998), Partisans of Vilna (1986) und Today I Vote for My Joey (2002) einen Namen gemacht. Die preisgekrönte Filmemacherin wurde 1947 als Tochter einer Holocaustüberlebenden und eines amerikanischen GI’s, der für die amerikanische Militärregierung arbeitete, in Berlin geboren. Aviva studierte Jura an der Antioch School of Law, sowie Psychologie und Stadtplanung an der University of Michigan und lebt heute als Freie Filmemacherin und Autorin in Washington, D.C.
In ihren Filmen beschäftigt sich Aviva Kempner mit Bildern und Geschichten von Juden und Jüdinnen, die nicht nur nie erzählt wurden, sondern zudem auch untypischer gar nicht sein könnten. So kam sie auf Einladung des Jüdischen Filmfestivals in ihre Geburtsstadt Berlin, um dort ihr neustes Werk Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg zu präsentieren. In diesem Film zeichnet Kempner das Leben der Medienpionierin Gertrude Berg (1894-1966) nach. Als Urheberin, Autorin und Darstellerin der bekannten amerikanischen Radiosendung, und späteren Familien-Sitcom, The Goldbergs, gehörte Gertrude Berg zu den beliebtesten Radio- und TV-Stars der 1930er bis 1950er Jahre.
AVIVA-Berlin: You studied law, psychology and urban planning. How did you become a filmmaker?
Aviva Kempner: Several reasons. I did not pass the bar exam for becoming a lawyer as I don’t do well on multiple choice questions. And as a child of a survivor I was always wanting to answer questions about World War II and fantasized about fighting Nazis. So I decided in late 1979 to make a movie about Jews fighting Nazis. I thought it was going to be about Warsaw Ghetto Uprising but we choose the Vilna ghetto and woods as the best story of resistance that combined a city and the forest and where the first call of resistance came from. Also many survivors from there were still alive and the songs of resistance came from Vilna.
AVIVA-Berlin: How did you feel about being back in Berlin, where you have been born? Did you enjoy the Jewish Film festival, and what did it mean to you presenting your film Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg?
Aviva Kempner: I go out of my way to present all my films in Germany. The world premiere of Partisans of Vilna was at the Berlin film festival and I have also brought The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg here. I make films about under known Jewish heroes and especially want to show those films in Germany with its past of Nazism. I am proud that there is a thriving Jewish community in Germany today, and want to offer my works to that community and the broader population.
AVIVA-Berlin: The focus of your work lies on under known Jewish heroes and heroines. Why did you choose to devote your films to these people?
Aviva Kempner: My family was so effected by World War II and object to destory European Judaism that I feel it’s my mission to present a positive image of Jewish heroes.
AVIVA-Berlin: What is the overall message of your films?
Aviva Kempner: That we have a rich range of Jewish heroes and we should know their courageous stories. During World War II we tried to resist against all odds. In America during domestic anti-Semitism we had a strong powerful baseball player who was our hero. And a Jewish actress, producer and writer during this same time developed a positive show on a Jewish family and laid the groundwork for the television sitcom that still succeeds until today. My films defy the stereotype of Jews on the screen as nebbish men, dominating mothers or passive victims.
AVIVA-Berlin: Why/how did Gertrude Berg, alias Molly Goldberg, caught your interest?
Aviva Kempner: She wore three hats and developed a positive image of the Jewish woman with a persona of an immigrant woman even though she was a Park Avenue resident. Berg fought to keep her blacklisted fellow actor on the show and taught immigrants of all faiths and backgrounds a positive image of the immigrant mother.
AVIVA-Berlin: What do you love the most about the real person Gertrude Berg and the character Molly Goldberg?
Aviva Kempner: In real life she did not have an accent and could juggle so many creative hats. And despite having a mother that was institionalized Berg created a healthy, strong mother image on the screen.
AVIVA-Berlin: When and why did you establish the Ciesla Foundation, and what is the mission of the foundation?
Aviva Kempner: In order to obtain government and foundation grants you need to have a non for profit foundation entity. I decided that as an independent filmmaker I would establish my own, and name it after my grandparents and aunt with the last name of Ciesla, who had perished at Auschwitz. I honor their name through my films and websites.
AVIVA-Berlin: What are your future film projects?
Aviva Kempner: I would like to make a film about Rabbi Regina Jonas, who was the first female rabbi when she was ordained in Berlin in the 30’s. She died in Auschwitz, and was a great teacher and thinker.
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