Zack and I apologize for not sending out any updates for the last few months, we truly appreciate what everyone has done for us. We are both extremely busy and Zack is currently writing his master’s thesis … which has nothing to do with film, but we forgive him.

All of our spare time has been used working on the project, mostly figuring out ways to raise more money to put out the polished feature documentary we know you all want. Zack and I Skype every week and we’re editing a rough cut of the film ourselves. We’re constantly reassured by revisiting the footage, and believe we are really working with something special.

At the same time, we’re working on an amazing trailer and redoing the website. We’re taking on the website ourselves, but have found a great, experienced editing team to work on the trailer. So by the end of June we hope to roll out some refreshing and exciting new changes on the web and in video.

Unfortunately, we have been denied by the three grants we have applied to, but, undeterred, we are applying to two more this month. We are very optimistic on raising the rest of the funds needed and think the approach we are taking now will help us. Through personal connections we hope to attach a celebrity narrator, and really think the trailer will go a long way towards making this specific goal a reality.

Finally, some wonderful news: We had a one page article written up about us and our project in the American University Alumni Magazine. Here is the link the to the article or you can download the pdf of the magazine by right clicking this link and selecting Save Page As. Our article is on page 19 and in the pdf you can see two pictures instead of one.

Thank you everyone for following along and supporting us and we will keep all of you updated on our progress. We will raise the money and this film will be completed and screened so that all of you – who have been so instrumental to making it – can finally view the fruits of our collective labor. I hope to speak to everyone soon.

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The Purpose

by Mike on January 4, 2011

A couple of weekends ago the purpose of this project came to life through big smiles and loving hugs. I met three of my great aunts and my great uncle who I had never met before and if I had I was too young to remember. This project started so that Zack and I could tell an incredible story and now an incredible story is developing as we learn more about it.

Every new experience during this journey has made me say to myself, “Wow! This is bigger than I thought.” I am learning so much about my family and with every new person I meet, the pieces of this genealogy puzzle fall into place.

Zack and I were welcomed so nicely to Florida and it has given us that jolt of inspiration we need every few weeks to help us continue you on full steam ahead.

Its a crazy thought that a exactly one year ago we came up with this idea to go to Europe to research for the feature film script we want to write and now we are knee deep in producing a full-length documentary. Our purpose for this project was to inspire others to find out where they came from and meet family members they hadn’t before. A couple of weeks ago I did exactly that.

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Giving Thanks

by Zack on December 13, 2010

Over Thanksgiving Zack joined me and my family at Thanksgiving dinner, where we showed a 9 minute clip we had cut for the grants we have applied for. It was really special showing people who care deeply about the project what we have done so far. Not surprisingly family members are not the harshest critics, but everyone seemed very excited about our progress. I really was happy about showing my Great Aunt Ann where she came from. She was born a few years after her parents came to America and so she never saw what her family’s hometown, Turysk, looked like. We gave her those images and sounds that I am sure she always dreamed about seeing and hearing. That was the most special part and has made what we have done so far completely worth it. We also shot interviews with some family members, including my Aunt Ann and got some incredible footage.

The Thanksgiving experience made me realize how lucky we are to be able to work on this project and have so many people support us. I really want to thank everyone for making it possible for me to show my Great Aunt where she came from. We are applying to more grants over the next couple of months and hopefully will be editing the feature by March.

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This will be brief. But, An Update!:

OK, OK, it’s been a month since we returned from Europe. And while Mike and I took a few days to get our lives back in order, we quickly got back to work. This weekend, Mike flew to DC to meet up with me and firm our strategy for the next few months. What did we decide? Glad you asked.

First of all, we have made the decision that we have too much content for a documentary short (30 minutes). That being the case, we are going to embark on a feature-length documentary. This means that our plan to have something by November is being delayed a good 4 months or so. It also means that we are going to do some additional interviews and shooting – but not too much. But it also means that we are going to make a FULL LENGTH FEATURE DOCUMENTARY.

So, our new plan is to have (possibly but not likely) a trailer by Thanksgiving. More likely, however, is that we will have a fully realized clip from a very pivotal section of the documentary complete by that time. This is very exciting for a number of reasons.

Also, we are putting the screenplay on the side-burner. We are still working on it (and making really really good progress), BUT our primary focus right now is the documentary. So, all you people waiting for rewards, be patient, they will come and we will not forget about you.

So that’s where we are at right now. We are both still very excited for this project and want you to know that we are continuing to work very hard on it. Progress may be slow, but it’s only because we recognize how important it is to make sure that we are doing everything right. This is, after all, our first feature-length documentary. Your patience is appreciated. And so is your support. As usual, it’s everyone reading this who has made our project possible so far and will continue to make its future possible.

Thanks!

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Day 29: Warsaw – Final Thoughts

by Mike on September 1, 2010

One thing I have learned more than anything on this trip and what I hope others have taken away from our blogs and updates is that things work out if you go at them with a positive attitude and open mind. We may not have planned this trip as well as we could have and we may have taken a few wrong turns, but in the end we always ended up at our destination, physically and mentally. This was only possible, because of the sometimes forgotten, generosity and kindness of the world’s average citizen.

I wish I could shake hands with every person that pointed us in the right direction, even in another language or gave us some advice on where to stay or eat. This journey has made me remember that the fast-paced, cutthroat world of Hollywood isn’t a reflection of the whole world. This realization has given me renewed energy to go back to L.A. and do something I love and something that makes an impact on the world.

Adapting is the key to being successful in life and that is what we did for 30 days straight of traveling through six different countries. Learn a few words of a language and how to navigate a new city every few days forced me to use all my senses and in turn made me much more observant of my surroundings. I don’t know where this project will lead me, but I do know that the direction it is taking me is the right one.

I want to thank every single person who made this trip and this project possible. And while this is the last of our daily updates, know that this is only the beginning of another chapter for Dust of Europe. We’ll be sure to keep you updated with the editing of the documentary as well as the progress of the screenplay.

And now, I sign off from Warsaw, Poland.

Michael Kershner
September 1, 2010

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Ben Fold + Pomplamoose +Nick Hornby = Yes, please!

This cool video by the above musicians gets an inspiring assist from one of my all-time favorite novelists, Nick Hornby (High Fidelity, Fever Pitch, About a Boy). It’s also simultaneously motivating and depressing.

I mean, Hornby compares himself to Dickens and considers himself a failure. Mike and I are barely a third of the way into our screenplay – so what does that make us!

Anyway, Mike and I spend a large portion of today at a hip little cafe in Warsaw listening to Miles Davis* and doing some actual honest to god writing. We haven’t had the opportunity to write as much as we would have liked during this trip, but we got some good stuff down today.

Tomorrow is our last full day in Europe. We have two appointments (one at a Military Museum!) and plan to do a bit more writing. You can also (hopefully) expect some final thoughts from Mike on what we’ve actually accomplished here.

*Maybe its clichéd to play “Kind of Blue” at a cafe in the US, but in Warsaw it comes off as downright  revolutionary when you take into consideration the fact that our breakfast cafe cranks out techno at 8 am.

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Day 27: Warsaw – Uprising

by Zack on August 31, 2010

Warsaw Ghetto Uprising – Photo from Jürgen Stroop Report to Heinrich Himmler from May 1943. The original German caption reads: “Forcibly pulled out of dug-outs”. Captured Jews are led by German soldiers to the assembly point for deportation. The woman at the head of the column, on the left, is Yehudit Neyer (born Tolub). She is holding onto the right arm of her mother-in-law. The child is the daughter of Yehudit and Avraham Neyer, who can be seen to the girl’s left. Avraham was a member of the Bund. Of the four, only Avraham survived the war. He currently lives in Israel. Picture taken at Nowolipie street looking East, near intersection with Smocza street. On the right townhouse at Nowolipie 63 further the ghetto wall with a gate. On the left burning balcony of the townhouse Nowolipie 66.

The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 1943 was the single largest revolt of Jewish prisoners during the entirety of World War II. And it is an event that still lingers in Warsaw today.

We visited the site of the Ghetto and several monuments that commemorate those who fought and those who fell – about 1,000 in total. The insurgents took to the sewers, largely, to base their operation. In the end, the Nazi’s destroyed the underground tunnels, and many were trapped and killed.

While these events were obviously post-Journey for Joseph, it’s tough to ignore the legacy of Nazism in Warsaw – over 80% of the city was burned and destroyed by the Germans. And, as I’m sure you are now aware, the Jewish population was extinguished as well.

There remains a small Jewish population in the city. Organizations and institutes have been established to sort through the Jewish history of the city. And in 2012 a museum will open to celebrate and examine Jewish historical life in Poland.

The museum, as it should be, will stand in the center of the former ghetto, near the spot of the uprisings origins.

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Video Update: Lviv

by Zack on August 30, 2010

All set to the serenity of Journey’s “Lights.” If you don’t get it, then you don’t get it ….

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I’m not usually one wont for entertainment.

My step-father has been known to remark that he hasn’t been bored since the 7th grade. It took me a bit longer, but it’s probably been a solid dozen years since I’ve truly known boredom. There is always something to be done, be read, be written, be edited.

But man, if yesterday’s train ride from Lviv, Ukraine to Warsaw, Poland didn’t put me to the test.

Mike and I awoke at an ungodly 5:15 am in order to be assuredly on-time for the 7 am train – the only one that day. The ride, scheduled to arrive in Warsaw at 8 pm local time, accounts for a one-hour time difference and the 5 hour wait at the border.

That’s not a typo. We sat, in the train, for 5 hours while then authorities and mechanics did god-knows-what.

Apparently, you can get off and go in to the closest town. Of course, we didn’t know this. Because we are ignorant Americans. So we sat – or more accurately, leaned, since we were on the top shelf of a 4-person sleeper car – for this 5 hour delay.

Only later did we realize this fact, as tens and tens of passengers came back with bags of tourist kitsch and bulging, satiated, well-fed bellies. The dry bread and salami we picked up at the Lviv train station never tasted worse.

I mean, sure, I had a book. And we had writing to do; editing to do. But one can only deal with a train lurching forward for 100 meters, slamming to a stop, reversing 100 meters, slamming again, then repeating the process ad infinitum, so many times.

But we endured. With the help of witty banter, books and our trusty laptop we made it to Warsaw in a scant 14 hours; exhausted, smelly and mentally indigent.

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Our last full day in Ukraine is as good a time as any for reflection on what we saw, heard and learned during our time here.

As is my usual habit, I brought along a bit of reading about Ukraine to help shed some light and context on my time here. For this trip, I revisited a book I read many years ago: journalist Anna Reid’s enlightening Borderland: A Journey Through the History of Ukraine.

I could go on and on (and based on your feedback, I usually do!) about everything I learned about Ukraine from our interviews, observations, conversations and research. But instead, I will borrow a passage from Richard Pipe’s Russia Under the Bolshevik Regime: 1919-1924 via Reid.

Reid explains that the post WWI revolutionary period of the Bolsheviks was the worst time for Ukraine’s Jews. This is, of course, the period in which Joseph set out to Turysk – which lie almost directly on the front line of the war between Poland and the Bolsheviks.

The  pogroms and massacres of 1917-1921 took the lives of anywhere from 50,000 to 200,000 Jews. One particularly gruesome incident, in the small town of Fastiv in 1919, killed 1,500. Reid quotes Pipe’s work:

The Cossacks divided into numerous separate groups, each of three to four men, no more. They acted not casually … but according to a common plan … A group of Cossacks would break into a Jewish home, and their first word would be ‘Money!’ If it turned out that Cossacks had been there before and taken all there was, they would immediately demand the head of the household … They would place a rope around his neck. One Cossack took one end, another the other, and they would begin to choke him. If there was a beam on the ceiling, they might hang him. If one of those present burst into tears or begged for mercy, then – even if he were a child – they beat him to death … I know of many homeowners whom the Cossacks forced to set their houses on fire, and then compelled, with sabres or bayonets, along with those who ran out of the burning houses, to turn back into the fire, in this manner causing them to burn alive.

These events are not easy to read about. But, as I mentioned in my Auschwitz post, there is something desensitizing - at least to me – about their profligate depiction in our culture.

But after more than a week of hearing stories from actual people, I have  seen their faces as they describe these events. I have seen the sites where atrocity occurred; stood on the mounds of mass graves; seen the shattered gravestones and burned out buildings.

So, in final reflection, what I’ve learned during my time in Ukraine is that these events were real. They were horrible. And they make that which Joseph did – march right into the heart of almost certain doom – that much more amazing.

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