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Sosua: Make a Better World (2012)

A new documentary about community, history, the power of the arts, and the promise of diversity. The hour-long film tells the story of Dominican and Jewish teenagers in New York's ... See full summary »


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A new documentary about community, history, the power of the arts, and the promise of diversity. The hour-long film tells the story of Dominican and Jewish teenagers in New York's Washington Heights neighborhood, who together with the legendary theater director Liz Swados, put on a musical about the Dominican Republic's rescue of 800 Jews from Hitler. Award-winning filmmakers Peter Miller and Renée Silverman interweave this little-known - and racially complex - Holocaust story with an intimate, behind-the-scenes portrait of the making of the theater production. In a neighborhood where Jews and Latinos live side by side but rarely interact, the theater project brings its young actors on an extraordinary journey of discovery of what unites them - both in the past and in the present. Written by Anonymous

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7 April 2013 (USA)  »

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A movie about a play; a play about an event
2 August 2013 | by (Upstate New York) – See all my reviews

Sosua: Make a Better World (2012) is a documentary directed by Peter Miller and Renée Silverman. The film is about a play, and the play is about a little-known event in which Dominican history and Jewish history came together.

The historical event took place as the Holocaust was starting. Almost all countries turned their backs on the Jews, but the vicious dictator Trujillo announced that he would accept 100,000 Jews into his country. Sadly, because most Jews couldn't get visas, only 800 Jews actually arrived in the city of Sosua, in the Dominican Republic. Trujillo's motives weren't admirable--he wanted white people to populate his country in order to keep out the Haitians. However, Trujillo did save the lives of those 800 people.

Washington Heights is a Manhattan neighborhood, north of Harlem. Jews settled there in the 1930's and 1940's, but now the population is predominately Dominican. The groups live side by side, without too much apparent hostility, but without much positive interaction either.

Elizabeth Swados is a talented Broadway director, who was given the task of producing a play about Sosua, with a mixed cast of Dominican and Jewish teenagers. It was hoped that the teenagers would bond during the rehearsals, and that the the play itself would bring about some bonding between the two neighborhood ethnic groups.

The teenagers weren't highly talented young actors and singers. Part of the brilliance of Swados' work is that she was able to bring out the best in her cast, but she was also realistic enough to know that she wasn't going to achieve perfection.

A major event in the rehearsals--and the film--is when Swados leaves to work on another production. From the brief clip we see, it's clear that her substitute doesn't have her talent for saying the right thing to the right actor at the right time. Fortunately, Swados returns and the play is successfully performed.

The teenagers actually did bond, as hoped for at the start. The movie doesn't address the issue of whether the Jews and Dominicans in the audience bonded as well. I would think that just getting people from both ethnic groups to watch a play together in the same theater was a real accomplishment.

On IMDb, Sosua doesn't yet have a rating, because five people haven't voted for it. (I gave it a 9.) That tells us that the film isn't being watched, which is unfortunate, because it's a very good movie. Part of the problem may be that, at 53 minutes, the film is too short to play as a feature. I think it's would be perfect as a TV special, or at meetings where it could be preceded by an introduction, and followed by a panel discussion.

We saw this film at Rochester's Dryden Theatre, as part of the admirable Rochester Jewish Film Festival. My compliments to Festival Director Lori Harter, and the RJFF Festival Committee, for finding a perfect slot for the movie--on Saturday evening, followed by two feature-length films. In that context, the short length of Sosua was actually a programming advantage.

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