Short stories on the big screen

Karen Pearlman on the set of her new short film, I Want to Make a Film About Women. Photo: Meg White

Two short films will premiere at this year’s JIFF after receiving $5000 grants. Danny Gocs talks to the filmmakers to find out the stories and dreams behind the films.

TWO experienced filmmakers have been awarded $5000 grants to make short films that will premiere at this year’s Jewish International Film Festival (JIFF), screening in Melbourne and other capital cities in October and November.

Joel Kohn, the creative director at Melbourne digital production studio Sherpa Projects, has worked in the film and television industries as a director and producer since graduating from The King David School more than 15 years ago. His grant goes to producing a 10-minute sci-fi adventure with a Holocaust theme titled The Mirror.

Sydneysider Karen Pearlman, a director of the Physical TV Company and a lecturer in screen production at Macquarie University, received her grant to make a documentary about female Russian filmmakers titled I Want to Make a Film About Women.

Karen Pearlman (right) with Russian actress Victoria Haralabidou in I Want to Make a Film About Women.

This is the third year that Australian filmmakers have been awarded grants from the JIFF Short Film Fund.

JIFF artistic director Eddie Tamir said: “The Short Film Fund encourages and supports the production and exhibition of diverse short films on themes that engage with Jewish life, history and culture.

“We are thrilled to be a catalyst for the production of two new and diverse Australian films, and are looking forward to sharing them with audiences at JIFF 2019.”

For Kohn, the grant allows him to bring to the screen a story idea that he has been working on for many years, inspired by his Holocaust survivor grandparents.

The Mirror is a supernatural fantasy drama about a 13-year-old Jewish girl named Suzi who comes to stay with her grandmother, a Holocaust survivor who is cantankerous and suffering from dementia,” he told The AJN.

“Suzi faces some difficulties coping with her grandmother, who does not remember her, and one day discovers an antique mirror in the basement.

“The mirror ends up being a magical portal that allows Suzi to cross from the present into Nazi Germany during World War II where she befriends a young girl in hiding in a similar basement.

“The film has a sense of wonder, but there is a darker tone that deals with issues such as antisemitism and the importance of learning from history – it is scarily relevant to events that are happening in the world today.”

Filmmaker Joel Kohn is making a short film, The Mirror, to screen at JIFF later this year.

Kohn, who has a Masters of Communication from RMIT University, has enjoyed success in his filmmaking career. He was producer on a short film that was a finalist in the prestigious Tropfest Australia short film festival in 2001, and was writer-producer-director of another Tropfest entry, Here Today, that was a finalist in 2014. He was a finalist in the 2013 Raw Nerve competition with Dinner for Three, and his film The Contract was screened at last year’s St Kilda Film Festival. He directed a season of The Saddle Club for the Nine Network as well as ABC-TV’s kids’ series, Prank Patrol.

Kohn divides his time between Sherpa projects and his own production company, Screen Invaders.

“It’s the nature of the film industry that you need to have several projects on the boil at once,” he said. “Sherpa allows me to work in the world of advertising where I do a lot of directing on advertising campaigns, while Screen Invaders is where I develop longer-form work including my passion projects.”

Through Screen Invaders Kohn is working with another film company, The Two Jons, on Gnomes, a comedy/horror TV series which last year received $30,000 in development funding from Screen Australia.

Gnomes is set around vengeful garden gnomes who come alive and start terrorising a small town.

“We are in the next round of development,” he said.

Kohn is also working on a sci-fi project, Seeker, as part of a “first look” development deal with SBS and Film Victoria. This followed his recognition in the 2017 Ones to Watch program, run by Screen Producers Australia.

Seeker explores contemporary issues – it is set in a futuristic detention centre and tackles the refugee story with a sci-fi slant.”

For now, Kohn is focused on the 10-minute live-action short film, The Mirror.

“The opportunity to premiere it at JIFF is very exciting, and having a short film made will give us the opportunity to work on the concept of a future feature-length version,” he said.

“It’s a story that I have wanted to tell for a while, but it was important for me to find a new way into the subject as there are so many wonderful feature films and shorts that have been already been made around the Holocaust.

“I want to tell that story through an imaginative genre lens and for a younger audience.”

Pearlman is a lecturer in screen production at Macquarie University and was formerly head of screen studies at the Australian Film, Television and Radio School. She is also a director of Physical TV Company, which she helped establish in 1997 to create films and productions. She was president of the Australian Screen Editors Guild in 2009-10.

Her half-hour documentary The Dancer From the Dance was a finalist in the Australian Teachers of Media (ATOM) awards for best arts documentary.

Pearlman was born in New York and became a professional dancer after graduating from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.

It was dance that brought Pearlman and her Australian-born partner Richard to Australia in 1995 to work and to direct a dance company.

“We were dancing and touring a lot and moved from Manhattan to Launceston and then to Sydney in 1997,” Pearlman told The AJN by phone from Amsterdam where she is currently attending a conference devoted to silent movies made by women.

Pearlman continued her studies in Sydney with a Masters in Media Arts and Production from UTS, a Masters Degree in Editing from AFTRS and a Doctorate of Creative Arts from UTS.

“It’s very exciting to receive a grant for JIFF,” she said, explaining that it will go towards a 10-minute film, I Want to Make a Film About Women.

“We have already shot the film and are at the editing stage and it is looking great! It is the final part of a trilogy about women filmmakers in the Soviet Union in the 1920s and 1930s.

“This period of filmmaking in the Soviet Union was revolutionary and there is a huge amount of material on the men who worked in the industry.

“This period is best known for its Soviet montage editing and all of the editors were women.

“So there’s plenty of material on the Russian men who worked in films at this time – most of whom were Jewish – but a silence surrounding the women.”

Pearlman’s first film in the trilogy is titled Women with an Editing Bench and pays homage to the creativity of Elizaveta Svilova, the unsung editor behind husband Dziga Vertov’s 1929 documentary masterpiece, Man with a Movie Camera, which raised the ire of Stalin.

“During my research for Women with an Editing Bench, I became aware of Esther Shub, a successful and influential documentary filmmaker who used groundbreaking innovations but is relatively unknown,” said Pearlman.

“When I was developing this film last year, I attended the Jewish International Film Festival and was so inspired to see Jewish-focused films and documentaries.

“Now I’m excited to be part of this year’s festival.”