The film has been a prizewinner at film festivals around the world and has been shown to religious groups in the United States with remote audiences.
Two years after the Holocaust film My Name Is Sara was ready for general distribution, it is being shown Aug. 5 at the Maple Theater in Bloomfield Township, where a talkback segment will be conducted by Sara’s son, Michigan resident Mickey Shapiro, and the film director, Steven Oritt (American Native, Accidental Climber).
COVID got in the way of the docudrama’s theater distribution, but it has been a prizewinner at film festivals around the world and has been shown to religious groups in the United States with remote audiences.
Recently seen in New York and California with its general release, the film is expected to be on view in some 35 sites throughout August.
The docudrama displays how Sara Shapiro, living in Poland at age 11, escaped the Nazis by taking on a Christian identity and toiled through grueling domestic work during the war before establishing a family in the United States.
“I want people to know how hard it was in what she went through and how she handled it,” said Shapiro, a real estate investor and developer who remotely conducted a similar session last summer at the Zekelman Holocaust Center in Farmington Hills.
“It was amazing how she survived. She was a kid who lost her mother, father and relatives. All she had was a pair of shoes and a dress, and she was all by herself. She lived for weeks with her brother, and then they split up. She spent years as a kid who had no life [of her own].”
The idea for the film was made at the suggestion of hedge fund owner Andrew Intrater, who met Shapiro in Florida. They talked about the backgrounds of their families during the Holocaust, and ultimately, the two shared production and funding commitments.
The distribution was decided by Strand Releasing, which has handled independent films for some 35 years.
“Strand has relationships with all of the theater owners across the country, and they had to wait for screen availability,” said Oritt, whose Jewish identity has caused him to share the emotional elements of the film.
More Timely Than Ever
“We could not have anticipated there would be a war happening in Ukraine, making the movie even more relevant and timely. I think the film has gotten a fair amount of attention because Sara was hiding as Ukrainian Orthodox for 90% of the film.”
Shapiro, who has been a member of Congregation Beth Ahm and a 19-year executive board member of Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation, visited Ukraine before the movie was made and found the people friendly. He remains shocked that Russia invaded Ukraine.
“The Maple was picked to present the movie because the location was within the Jewish community, and it shows arthouse cinema,” Oritt said. “In each of the communities where we’re launching the film, we’re depending on a lot of word of mouth and connecting with temples and other Jewish organizations to help spread the word.
“A lot of people wanted to know what Sara’s impressions were of the making of the film. Unfortunately, Sara passed away in 2018, but she was not aware of the production. It was Mickey’s choice. He felt it would have been too painful for her to know about it.”
In the talkback sessions, Shapiro and Oritt have found that a younger, gentile audience especially responds to the film, and Oritt credits that to the star of the film, Zuzanna Surowy, the young woman who plays Sara. A Polish actress now, she never acted before doing this film.
While Oritt is asked about the filmmaking, Shapiro is asked about his family background.
The film does not show how both Sara (1930-2018) and her husband Asa (1922-2017) were from the town of Korets, part of Poland before becoming part of Ukraine. Asa was in a Russian Labor Camp before being conscripted into the Russian Army. They married in Korets after learning most of their families had been murdered by the Nazis. Mickey was born in a displaced persons camp in Germany and was 2 years old when his parents brought him to America.
“We’re trying to do as many presentations as we can,” Oritt said. “I’m proud that the film provokes a conversation. People want to talk about it after it’s shown. To have these discussions, answering questions by people who just saw it and are moved by it, is incredibly gratifying.”
Shapiro also finds the talkback important.
“She became a very good mother and loved her sons,” said Shapiro, founder and chairman of the M. Shapiro Real Estate Group and co-founder of Lautrec Limited. “She doted on us and hid her emotions. She was stoic in the film and in her life. She was very private. She didn’t share a lot with people. She didn’t trust people. I don’t blame her.
“We have to tell the world that this can and might happen again, and we have to do everything we can to stop it. We don’t have that many survivors left, and this film brings the Holocaust to life.”
My Name Is Sara and the talkback are being scheduled Aug. 5 at the Maple Theater in Bloomfield Township. To learn times and ticket prices, call (248) 855-9091.