Widespread Welcome Locally for ‘Irena’s Vow’
Arts & CultureFilm

Widespread Welcome Locally for ‘Irena’s Vow’

The showings of the Holocaust drama at five local theaters in mid-April was part of a national screening program.

“Irena’s Vow” tells the story of how a young Polish Catholic woman selflessly saved a dozen Jews in the Holocaust.
“Irena’s Vow” tells the story of how a young Polish Catholic woman selflessly saved a dozen Jews in the Holocaust.

Atlanta audiences across the metropolitan area had an opportunity last month to watch “Irena’s Vow,” the inspiring Holocaust drama that opened this year’s Atlanta Jewish Film Festival.

The film, which describes how a teenage Polish nurse saved the lives of a dozen Jews by hiding them under the noses of the Nazis, came with a high ticket price at the festival opening. Tickets cost $180 each, but a screening the next afternoon was regular price.

Last month, Fathom Events, one of the top distributors of special programming to movie theatres in North America and more than 35 other countries, promoted two days of screenings – including five in local Atlanta-area AMC theaters. Some of the venues, like AMC Avenue Forsyth and the AMC Barret Commons, far from the Atlanta city center, don’t often screen Holocaust films.

The CEO of Fathom Events, Ray Nutt, described the film as “a powerful and moving story.”

The real woman, Irene Gut Opdyke, always believed that what she did was part of a divinely inspired plan.

“We are not only proud of our partnership to show this film,” Nutt said, “but also the ability to give audiences the added video pieces with Irena’s daughter, the star, the director, and more. It gives the film a deeper perspective and audiences will definitely find value.”

The national distribution the film has received from its North American sales rep, Quiver Distribution, is unusual for a Holocaust film, particularly one that is a Polish and Canadian co-production.

The distributors even went so far as to carve out publicity budgets aimed at faith-based venues like churches and church supported education institutions. There are even marketing plans specifically aimed at Catholic institutions. A media campaign aimed specifically at each audience has been developed by public relations firms that specialize in each of these religious markets.

The co-presidents of Quiver Distribution, Jeff Sackman and Berry Meyerowitz, have made a determined effort to get the film in front of as many filmgoers as possible.

“Irena’s Vow” is an extraordinary story of personal heroism.

“From the moment we read the script over seven years ago, we were determined to find a way to make ‘Irena’s Vow’ a reality. Little did we know how much more important Irena’s story would be amid the massive increase in Jewish hatred and bigotry around the world.”

Helping to get the word out about the film is Irena’s daughter, Jeannie Opdyke Smith, who was born after her mother married an American and came to the United States after the war. She said her mother never mentioned her Holocaust experiences until she received a phone call from a student who was authoring a paper, denying that the Holocaust had been as bad as it was. The conversation with the Holocaust denier changed her life.

“She was so shocked that someone who wasn’t even alive during that time had been brainwashed,” her daughter said. “I remember her standing there holding the phone receiver and just kind of looking at my dad and in a daze saying, ‘all these years that I’ve kept silent, I’ve allowed evil, and I’ve allowed the enemy to win. And, you know, it was there that she said, from now on, I’m not going to be silent.’”

She began speaking about her experiences during the Nazi occupation of Poland and how she determined early on to do whatever she could to save the lives of Jews. She wrote a memoir, “In My Hands: Memoirs Of A Holocaust Rescuer.” The book became the basis for a Broadway play that starred Tovah Feldshuh and that play has become the basis for the film. Her story, by the playwright Dan Godon, has been republished with a new cover promoting the movie.

Long before Irena died in 2003 she was awarded Israel’s highest tribute to a civilian hero, its Medal of Honor, which was presented to her in a ceremony at Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial.

She’s also been honored as a Righteous Among The Nations by Israel’s Holocaust Commission and been posthumously awarded the Courage To Care citation of the Anti-Defamation League and the Commanders Cross – the Medal of Honor, Poland’s Medal of Honor.

The film has been well received critically. It boasts an 86 percent rating on the Rotten Tomatoes review site and won the audience award at the Vancouver International Film Festival. Plans for its debut on streaming services platforms have not yet been announced.

Irena’s daughter says she was surprised by all the attention she received. Her mother believed that what happened and how it happened was all it was meant to be. Her religious faith, her daughter says is what kept her going.

“She believed that everything that came to her. Everything that happened was how it was supposed to be. And it was her path in life.”

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