Jewish World Review June 27, 2000/ 24 Sivan, 5760

A different sort of
Hollywood Jew

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- LOS ANGELES media producer David Notowitz edited "The Last Klezmer," Yale Strom's video documentary on an aging Jewish musician in Poland. He shot, edited and served as a producer on Strom's "Carpati," which told the story of a Jewish Holocaust survivor who was close to Gypsies in the Ukraine.

More recently Notowitz edited "Waging Peace," a documentary for Disney about 30 teens from opposing sides of crisis-plagued regions of the world who are brought to Venice, Italy by Elie Wiesel's Foundation for Humanity to discuss, argue, and explore solutions to the pain and trauma in their lives. The documentary focused on seven teens from Ireland, Israel, South Africa and Oakland, California.

His newest work, "Voices of the Shoah", is an audio documentary accompanied by a 100-page book. It was recently released by Rhino Records. JWR's Jon Kalish conducted the following interview via email.

JWR: You not only work in audio and video but you have a hand in web production as well. What are you doing in that medium?

DN: I've been trying to get a web site going which would bring Jewish artists together from around the world. It would be a place where Jewish artists could interact and share their work and possibly collaborate. It would be a place where Jewish artists and buyers of Jewish art can meet in a comprehensive, worldwide and professional site for interaction. I want to create a place to find news about Jewish art and artists, to find the latest grant and job opportunities and to create a place where a person could hire professional artists of all kinds: musicians, storytellers and dancers.

The trouble for Jewish artists has often been that we're spread out all over the world--spread thin and far--and this web site might be the first time ever that we could economically meet, talk and collaborate even if we are separated by thousands of miles.

JWR: So much has been written and produced about the Holocaust. What drew you to the subject? And why an audio approach?

DN: Where I grew up, in San Carlos, California, there seemed to be very few Jews. You had to take a ten minute drive south to reach our synagogue. In my high school of 2000 people, there were 14 Jews. That's less than 1%.

When I moved into the dorms at the University of California, Santa Cruz, it seemed everyone was Jewish! I asked around and discovered that nearly 25% of the student body were Jews. Here I was confronted anew with figuring out my identity.

At the same time I discovered film. I wanted to combine my newly sparked interest in my Jewish roots with my love for filmmaking. Every year I would go to the Jewish Film Festival in San Francisco, spend all week watching films, and dream of having my film up there, playing to a packed audience. Then, in 1993, after working in the industry for 4 years, I got the dream job of editing a film that became The Last Klezmer. Spent a year editing Last Klez. It went on to be named a top-10 film of 1994 by Sneak Previews on PBS. It showed at the Jewish Film Festival in San Francisco.

With Voices of the Shoah, I never had to send a resume or apply for the job because people knew about me in the Los Angeles Jewish community. Richard Foos of Rhino wanted the project made, and he came to John Fishel, president of the Los Angeles Jewish Federation. John Fishel and the Federation's survivor organization, the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, came to me.

There have been many projects made on the Shoah, but there has never been made anything in audio. When I learned this, I had to be involved.

I grew up listening to old radio adventures as I fell asleep. My favorite still is Mystery Theater with E.G. Marshall. What an amazing way to stimulate the mind!

Audio gives a totally different experience than film. Film fills your imagination. With all your senses being overloaded--voices, image, music, even tactile experience of intense sound effects on your body--there is no room for putting yourself into a project. An audio project leaves space for the listener to fill with their personal images and experiences.

If I place on tape the sounds of footsteps going into a house, what house do you imagine? YOUR house--the house in which you grew up. Your life and experiences become attached to the audio you hear, so this reaches more deeply to affect you.

Richard Foos envisioned Voices as an audio project from the very beginning, and I was very excited to be a part of it.

Because this is on CD and cassette, people will be able to listen to this project in their cars and in their computer, to share it with their families and friends, and to learn and grow from it in schools and universities. It is a great educational tool.

JWR: What were the survivors in L.A. like?

DN: I felt that the survivors I met were astoundingly powerful individuals. All had gone through such hell and still they came out with the will to rebuild their families--to remarry if their spouse had been killed, to have new children, to move to America and learn a new language and culture, and to rebuild their careers. For some, their main goal was to rebuild the Jewish people. For others their goal was to relate to whoever would listen to the experience of the ghettos and camps. For years, many Americans in the United States didn't want to listen to the survivors.

Survivors wanted so much to talk, and yet no one would listen. In recent years more people have been listening.

And I have learned much from the strength and perseverance of the survivors.

JWR: The decisions you have to make about what to include and what to leave out can be difficult. What would you say about the decision to make the documentary as long as it is?

DN: There was a huge amount of material. Before I even got involved, the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust had been taping interviews of survivors. I went through those interviews, and found that although the interviews were good, I needed to do interviews myself.

I wanted to ask questions that projects like this had not asked. I wanted to ask about Jewish life in the small and large cities of Europe PRIOR to Hitler's rise. I also wanted to ask philosophical questions" What have you taken from this experience? What have you learned from it? How did it affect your Jewish observance and belief in G-d? I often spent 4 hours interviewing each survivor. From that I chose the very best pieces and intercut each survivor to create a dramatic journey. A documentary needs to be structured like any feature film, with a beginning, middle and end. But unlike a normal feature film, this story is ALL true.

There were far too many powerful and inspiring and miraculous stories to include all of them. I had to cut and cut and cut.

Rhino always told me, "If you need us to make it a 5-CD set, fine. If you need it to be more, fine." They only wanted one thing--a good project, and that has always been my focus.

The length of the project was determined by the quality of the material. My goal is to never waste a moment of a listener's time. In terms of the overall "layout of the project," it is 4 hours long, and I never intended people to listen to the whole thing non-stop. Some people might want to listen to stories about pre-WWII Jewish life while others might want to hear about the ghettos. Still others might want to hear the story of a young girl whose father bribed a peasant farmer so she and her mother would be hidden in a barn for the duration of the war.

With that in mind I broke the project in many small, distinct sections to allow for targeted listening. There are 119 tracks!!! The CD has each track is listed in the book for ease of access.

JWR: What's next for you in the way of Jewish projects?

DN: I have a few exciting ideas and we'll see who might be interested to help me make them a reality.

You need to have a very long-range vision, sometimes 5 years down the road! You need to have patience and lots of tenacity. And you need to envision the audience--sitting in a dark theater or in front of a TV or listening on their stereo--experiencing your project.

In terms of Jewish projects, right now I am doing something a bit off the wall -- consulting for a Jewish cemetery about creating a short Shoah video that would play within an outdoor granite kiosk as part of their newly built Holocaust memorial.

Send your comments by clicking here. To order Voices of the Shoah, please click on link in 2nd paragraph.


© 2000, JWR