It was a sentimental farewell to the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival’s 20th year of storytelling Feb. 27 with the premier of the documentary “Saul & Ruby, To Life!” The film closing the three-week festival showcased two very peppy and inspirational seniors who rose from obscurity to start the Holocaust Survivor Band.
Ruby Sosnowicz and Saul Dreier took us back through their tortured past to express positivity through their subsequently formed band. There was pain, hope and spunk, and the message “Never Again,” repeated three times.
One of the most endearing scenes was repeated on the road when Saul and Ruby shared a motel room with twin beds and fought over TV football games or rehashed their success and loving life. Director-writer Tod Lending clarified that it took two years to shoot the footage and another 18 months to edit. “Thus, I had to decide what 1 percent of content made it to the screen.” During the two years both men formed the band, lost their wives, and traveled to Eastern Europe.
To have a rousing live conclusion, Saul and Ruby appeared with professional local musician Chip Epstein for several numbers, including “Ani Maamin,” and “Hevenu Shalom Aleichim” and concluding with “God Bless America.”
Ruby’s daughter Chana, a dental hygienist, is a constant throughout the film and appeared lovingly in the band. “After all, these guys are 91 and almost 95!” Both men spoke emotionally about their zest for life and love for each other. Saul, with
no notes, spoke of surviving twice, “Once from the Holocaust, once from cancer.”
After the film, CNN’s Holly Firfer interviewed Lending. She started by sharing, “Music is the moving, universal language that we all use.” Lending explained, “Ruby & Saul is a longitudinal film that follows the subjects over years; and that takes trust for access and intimate moments.”
At the subsequent dessert reception, Dr. Jay Levin said, “I loved the movie for its humanity in spite of the past hatred.” Saul and Ruby were treated like rock stars and posed with fans. Sisters Melissa Bauer and Jennifer Salisbury gathered around Ruby. “We grew up as non-Jews and just found our Jewish roots. We came to see what it’s all about.” Millennial Robert Fineman said, “It’s difficult to see that this [Holocaust] generation is almost gone. It was a pleasure to see such life in Saul and Ruby.”
Their positive spirit was palpable. When I asked Ruby if he was “eligible and
dating,” he looked me up and down and joked, “Sure, but my cutoff is 39.”
In the tradition of Closing Night, AJFF jury wrangler Gabe Wardell presented the six juried prizes. He explained that the judges were in smaller category units with film students and luminaries in each.
The winners were:
Emerging Filmmaker: “My Polish Honeymoon,” Elise Otzenberger
Building Bridges: “Shared Legacies: The African-American Jewish Civil Rights Alliance”
Human Rights: “The Passengers”
Narrative: “Those Who Remained”
Short: “Mum’s Hairpins”
Earlier in the evening, AJFF devotees weighed in on their experiences so far. Sponsors Judy and Steve Funk recalled their favorites. Judy said, “I was most moved by ‘Crescendo’ with the kids interacting and showing hope for the future.” Steve preferred “Standing Up, Falling Down” the Billy Crystal movie. “We got the message in just the right length of time. Not drawn out.” Ed Harris reminisced, “I
related to ‘The Bronx.’ Being from that area, I had the same mindset and tonight I am excited about the klezmer band since I was a drummer in LA in a klezmer band.”
Harriet and Jim Berger leaned towards “fun movies” such as ‘The Bronx” and “Last Week at Ed’s.” “We really liked ‘Golda’ and now tonight, it’s always important to see Holocaust-themed movies within the festival.”
Ellen Berman and Ron Lipsitz also had opinions. She said, “I loved the Oliver Sacks movie since I had actually met him years ago when I was on “Noonday Atlanta.” Lipsitz marveled that the City Springs venue was “just right” for the festival. He liked “Standing Up, Falling Down.” “It was clever, well acted and had a great ending.”
Over 38,000 moviegoers attended this year’s festival across metro Atlanta, according to the AJFF.
The spirit of the AJFF doesn’t end with closing night. Sari Earl, vice president of the AJFF board, announced that programming begins next month as AJFF kicks off its Selects series with the biographical drama Resistance starring Jesse Eisenberg as the legendary mime Marcel Marceau. AJFF has also announced a special 20th anniversary gala concert in partnership with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, featuring film scores from Jewish-themed Hollywood classics. The concert will be held on the evening of Monday, Oct. 19, 2020.