Atlanta Film Explores Local Russian Jewish Life
Filmmaker Sam Dubin’s “The Stream” is based on his own family’s experiences.
“The Stream,” a short film by Duluth resident Sam Dubin, about his Russian Jewish immigrant family received a warm and enthusiastic Atlanta premiere on a recent Sunday afternoon. The film, which debuted before a packed house Jan. 15 at the iconic Plaza Theater in Virginia Highlands, is Dubin’s first attempt at film making.
The project grew out of his frustration with his first love, acting, which he studied at the University of Michigan. When he graduated in 2020, the pandemic had demolished his dreams of getting a start in the theater and he regularly found himself unemployed and sitting in the largely empty Plaza Theater watching movies.
“I remember just going when there were like three people there,” Dubin recalls, “I would sit there, say to myself as I watched the films, ‘I really want to do this.’ That’s where the passion behind this project came from.”
Dubin had no money and no experience in making films, but he gradually started developing what became a script for the project. It would, he thought, be loosely based on the strained relationship he experienced growing up when his father, Yacov, was forced to sell a beloved vacation home. In the film, the anger turns physical and the two come to blows. When he went to his father with the idea, he got a firm and angry ‘no,’ a “nyet,” in Russian. He didn’t want the family’s dirty linen, he told his son, to be aired in public.
“He said, ‘I don’t know if I’m ready.’ It’s like he’s like, ‘it’s a great script. I’m not denying that. But I don’t know if I want people to see this, if I’m ready to share this with the world.’”
For Yacov, who had grown up in St. Petersburg and came to this country with little but a determination to build a new life for himself and to be successful, a story that seemed to attack all that he had accomplished was not very appealing. Most of all, Sam Dubin’s film seemed to attack the very idea of a strong family life, which is part of the bedrock of his father’s existence.
“I think that there’s themes in this film about the American dream, the idea of success and how the generational divide comes between children and parents. It’s the life of an immigrant. These are the things that people like my father really care about. And that story, I think, deserves to be told.”
Although Dubin was born in this country, he found himself strongly influenced by the great 19th century Russian playwright, Anton Chekhov, much of whose work centers around the drama of everyday family life, particularly in his classic last work, “The Cherry Orchard,” which revolves around the sale of the family’s estate with its beautiful fruit trees that were destroyed to make way for a housing development. The idea of a strong family bond that persists even through life’s vicissitudes in something that Dubin has been deeply ingrained in his life.
“We have a very strong family. It’s hard for me to imagine anything different. At Thanksgiving my great aunt Elena who, in 1978, was the first member of our family to come to America, always says you should give thanks for your family. Whenever you think you don’t have anything, just be grateful for your family. Grateful that your food on the table, some money in your pocket but thankful for all those people around the table.”
Although his father, at first, was not eager for “The Stream” to be made, he eventually became the film’s biggest cheerleader, helping to raise a considerable amount of money for the film and helping to promote it to his friends. His mother and older sister pitched in with social media and the planning for the Plaza Theater screening. All of them sat proudly through the premiere and his father went on stage afterwards to thank the audience, afterwards. His son, Sam, believes that the debut was like a catharsis for them all.
“If anything, this film has made our family stronger. Obviously, we’re in a much better place financially so that’s part of the reason why. But also, the act of telling the story that like a weight has been lifted off of our chest a little bit and we can see how much it means.”
The next stop for Dubin and his family production is New York, which has a large Russian Jewish immigrant population. After that, he hopes to find a strong partner that will stream his family-friendly film for a national and even international audience.