Local Holocaust survivor Fred Lessing, featured in the award-winning short film Bear and Fred, and local filmmaker Keith Famie
Local Holocaust survivor Fred Lessing, featured in the award-winning short film Bear and Fred, and local filmmaker Keith Famie.

Bear and Fred has been touring with a great deal of excitement in film festivals nationally, seeing much success.

The short film Bear and Fred, which is a part of local filmmaker Keith Famie’s Shoah Ambassadors Holocaust documentary, was featured in and won Best Documentary Short in this year’s Royal Starr Film Festival on Sept. 18 at the Royal Oak Emagine Theatre. 

Bear and Fred has been touring with a great deal of excitement in film festivals nationally, seeing much success.

To date, the film has won Best Documentary Short in the Los Angeles Movie Awards and International Independent Film Awards-Spring Sessions, was an official selection in the Big Apple Film Festival and Dances with Films festival, a finalist in the Independent Shorts Awards (Los Angeles) and more.

The short film shows local Shoah Ambassador Hailey Callahan visiting the home of local Holocaust survivor Fred Lessing, who tells the story of a teddy bear that accompanied him in his wanderings from one hiding place to another during World War II. The teddy bear became a symbol after being loaned to Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Israel in 1996 as part of an exhibition called “No Child’s Play.” 

The story is also the subject of a children’s book released in May 2020, titled Bear and Fred: A World War II Story.

Lessing was in attendance and, after the short film was shown, he received a huge standing ovation from a sold-out crowd. 

Warren Rose, CEO of Bloomfield Hills-based Edward Rose & Sons, the title presenting supporter of the film for the launch on PBS, was in attendance as well. Having lost family members during the Holocaust, Rose knows how important Lessing’s story is for people to hear.

“It must have been tough for him to really try and tell that story and revisit some of those old memories,” Rose said. “It’s an amazing, powerful story about spirit and humanity and his connection with this object, which he said became him, he transposed himself into this object. It was remarkable.” 

Rose has worked with Famie before and when Famie presented the project to him, Rose was intrigued by the film’s new take on the Holocaust story being told to younger generations. Rose hopes the film promotes further Holocaust awareness with that younger generation. 

“I think some of that’s drifting, I think the story isn’t being told a lot, and the generation that experienced it is going away,” Rose said. “So, I really thought it was a marvelous way to retell the story and connect it to the younger generation and what they’re experiencing.”

Seeing the short film on the big screen was great, Famie said, but he believes Lessing’s firsthand experiences with the crowd were the best part.

“I think the most exciting part is people could actually have a chance to meet Fred,” Famie said. “He exudes kindness, warmth and humility, and it’s a powerful message for today’s generation to understand the lives of those who lived through the Holocaust.”

Prior to the showing of the short film Sept. 18 during the Royal Starr festival, a four-minute trailer was shown for the upcoming Shoah Ambassadors movie. 

The film has been in production for more than 18 months and is focused on educating youth about the horrors and atrocities of the Holocaust through young ambassadors, including Callahan, a graduate of Detroit’s College for Creative Studies, who have been selected to tell the Holocaust story through their own unique artistic expression. 

Filming for the movie is in its home stretch. 

On Oct. 3, a big final scene will be filmed at the Berman Center for the Performing Arts in West Bloomfield. Everybody featured in the film, the Detroit Children’s Choir, along with many Michigan-based Holocaust survivors, are set to be in attendance. 

“It’s going to be a really momentous scene,” Famie said. 

Shoah Ambassadors will premiere at a community showing Nov. 11 at the Emagine Novi Theatre and make its debut on DPTV/PBS on Nov. 18. 

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