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AN INTERVIEW WITH Cheryl Halpern, DIRECTOR & PRODUCER
As a filmmaker, please introduce yourself.
Allow me to introduce myself. I am a partner at HQ Creative LLC, an Emmy Award winning production company and branding agency
serving clients throughout the world. As an independent filmmaker I have produced award winning documentaries that have provided
compelling historical and cultural information to audiences. My films have focused on embodying the spirit of achievement thereby
providing positive visual images and messages for all; regardless of age, gender or ethnicity. These documentaries have been screened internationally by film festivals and educational institutions. They have also been included in Museum exhibits and library collections.
Why you became a filmmaker as director and producer?
My parents taught me through their own actions, that it is incumbent upon each of us to recognize that we have the capacity as well as the responsibility to care for one another and to do for each other regardless of gender, race, physical or mental handicaps or religious beliefs.
This is a moral challenge that each of us must address, especially if we aspire to live in a more peaceful world.
I chose to commit myself to this challenge by using film as a means to create awareness and acknowledge persons who have made social contributions to their respective societies. Individuals who have succeeded in improving the quality of life in their communities
and cultures are role models whose stories need to be told. As a filmmaker it has been a privilege to share several of these compelling
stories with global audiences and provide an opportunity for education, discussion and growth.
Give some more information about yourself and the films you have made so far, about your experience?
Everyone has a story to be shared. As an independent documentary producer I listen and respond to those stories that both expand
my knowledge and also touch my emotions. One documentary that I produced, “Fighting to be Free” began during a breakfast
meeting that I had with the First Lady of Ethiopia, Azeb Mesfin regarding an educational initiative.
The First Lady together with several of her friends began reminiscing about their teenage years and their unique education
when they chose to join the fight for freedom. As I listened to what was shared with me I was in awe of these women.
They began their narrative as heroic female freedom fighters who created a special sisterhood of rural and urban, literate and illiterate young women. They then challenged cultural norms and emerged as leaders within the armed struggle for freedom.
Finally they were able to champion the inclusion of gender equality in the Ethiopian Constitution and thereby provide a continuing
legacy to insure freedom for future generations of Ethiopian women. They were “Fighting to be Free” and they won. Needless to say,
I felt compelled to share the stories of these remarkable women. In another award award winning documentary,
“WishMakers” I tell the story of the unique partnership existing in the Tulip Winery between the Yitzchaki Family and
the adult special needs residents of Kfar Tikvah, the Village of Hope. Adults with special needs who would typically be avoided
and be referred to in the negative as “feeble minded” or as “retards” are employed in the winery with respect and dignity.
This documentary is meant to celebrate each of these individuals and teach the audience to appreciate them, without prejudice.
We need to remember the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would want to have done for yourself.”
What are the films or people that had impacts on you and deeply inspired you to become a filmmaker?
I have always enjoyed films that educate, provide positive messages and make me feel good for having had the viewing experience.
In particular, films that have celebrated real women who achieved and made a difference have inspired me.
I remember going with my Grandmother to see Rosalind Russell in “Auntie Mame” produced by Morton DaCosta.
Here was a wonderful story based on the life of Mame Dennis, an exuberant woman who celebrated living every day
regardless of the societal challenges and prejudices that needed to be addressed. Then there was Anne Bancroft as the “Miracle Worker”,
Anne Sullivan, who opened the world for the blind and deaf Helen Keller that was directed by Arthur Penn.
Anne Sullivan personified the strength of caring and persevering. As a consequence of Anne Sullivan’s indomitable determination
look at what Helen Keller went on to achieve when she graduated from Radcliffe College cum laude in 1904.
These are but two of the films that showed me, as a child, that anything is possible with compassion, commitment and creativity.
You have made your nice documentary film "Remembering" which was Officially Selected in the
"American Golden Picture International Film Festival".
As a filmmaker, why you decided to make it?
“Herinneren: Het verhaal van Maurits Kiek…Remembering: The Maurits Kiek Story” presents one man’s courage to return to
Nazi-occupied Europe and serve as a covert MI-9 agent. His unwavering determination to stand up, in the face of overwhelming odds,
and fight the perpetrators of evil was acknowledged in Den Haag, The Hague, in 2015.
This documentary is especially important given the rise of Neo-Nazism and extremism around the world and the exposure of the
younger generations to this prejudice and intolerance on multiple social networking platforms. Young people need to be taught, with
and by example, that when human lives are at risk; when men, women and children are persecuted because of gender, ethnicity,
religion or physical limitations, that they must take a stand against the oppressors before they, too, join the herd and lose their human dignity.
Maurits Kiek is a hero for all of us to remember as we, too, are challenged to respond to human injustice and cruelty.
What were some of the challenges you faced in making this film?
Maurits Kiek was an agent who first served British intelligence in MI-9 and then continued in MI-6. As such, much of his service
record is still classified. It was a challenge to find sources of declassified information and to identify individuals who could
discuss Maurits Kiek and the WWII resistance experience.
Let us more about your experience in this film?
I was intrigued as to why the Dutch chose to honor Maurits Kiek in 2015, 75 years after the invasion of their country by the Nazis
and 35 years after Maurits kiek had died. I was disturbed to hear from Councillor Revis, the Dutch official in charge of honoring
Maurits Kiek, his concerns regarding young people of today and their ignorance of the evil perpetrated by the Nazis during World War II.
He challenged himself when he asked, “How will my two teen age sons know how to respond to evil if we do not teach them about the
inhumanity of the Nazi regime and remember those who, against all odds, resisted and fought these ruthless oppressors?”
The Councilman was quite correct to be concerned. Remembering is essential and we must share the life altering memories
from generation to generation. Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel, upon receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, solemnly noted, “Remembering is
a noble and necessary act. The rejection of memory becomes a divine curse, one that would doom us to repeat past disasters, past wars.”
The research, archive documents and footage in your film is wonderful and supports the film in a very effective way.
What was it like to work with researcher?
I have personally engaged in the researching for every story that I have chosen to produce and direct.
I read the books and articles that are available before going forward to identify the key individuals that I will want to interview.
I need to be as informed as possible in order to ask the questions that will draw out the individual being interviewed on camera.
Very often it is the person being interviewed who then shares even more resource information and documentation to enhance the project.
For you what was the biggest lesson you had to learn after making this film?
“Herinneren: Het verhaal van Maurits Kiek…Remembering:
The Maurits Kiek Story” presents a lesson from the past that needs
to be remembered today in a world where prejudice, injustice and
violence is vigorously reemerging. The personal challenge that I cannot answer is whether I would find the courage and personal strength
to rise and engage evil, even if it meant putting my own life at risk,
as did Maurits Kiek.
What keeps you inspired to continue filmmaking?
Every day presents an opportunity to listen to learn and to help
make a difference. As I have traveled around the world I have been
privileged to meet and to learn about individuals who through
their actions have been committed to promoting tolerance,
respect, justice, mercy and hope. As a producer and director of documentaries, I believe that it is important to share the
diverse stories represented by these remarkable societal and cultural role models in order to help promote understanding and respect between people and challenge intolerance and prejudice.
This is a priority for me especially since we are living in a time
when so many of the stories that are aired and shared on the multi media and social networking platforms focus on violence, hatred, corruption and abuse. By choosing to produce documentaries applauding heroes and heroines around the world I hope to
provide a modality for the promotion of tolerance and civility
with every audience that attends a screening.
The most important part is distributing the film. What did you do for distributing your film "Remembering"?
The documentary will be available on the iTunes platform shortly. HQ Creative has not chosen any other distribution organization as yet.
We are always open to suggestions.
What are your filmmaking goals?
My goal as a documentary filmmaker is to share stories that are educational and inspiring with as broad an audience as possible.
One never knows how a viewer will respond and what actions might be forthcoming on that individual’s life journey. Just look at me…
What is your next project?
I am currently working on a documentary that is focused on a new awareness regarding aspects of a tradition that are harmful to the
health and well being of those participating. It is another compelling story coming from Ethiopia.
GOOD LUCK Cheryl
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