December’s Online Short: Egg Cream


Filmmaker Q&A: Nora Claire Miller and Peter Miller

What inspired you to make this film?

Nora: As a kid, my parents would sometimes make me egg creams. I loved them — the chocolate syrup, and the fizz, felt like a particularly decadent chocolate milk (I was usually only allowed regular milk). I always wondered why it was called an egg cream. Where did it come from? Why had it been so inaccurately named?

Jewish culture is all about contradictory stories. When I was eleven, I went to my dad, my Hebrew school teacher, and to Eisenberg’s, my favorite egg cream spot. Everyone gave me a different answer. Partially driven by a deep love of questions for which there is no answer, and partially by a thirst for chocolate syrup, my dad and I set out to make a film.

Peter: I’ve always felt a spiritual connection to egg creams. When my father made them for me in our suburban home decades after he had left the Jewish ghetto, they felt like a carbonated time machine into his past. The way the bubbles, slightly sweetened by chocolate syrup, went up my nose, seemed to me like a direct connection to something very old, and very ethnic.

So naturally, the chance to tell the story of this fabled drink as a movie, in collaboration with my own kid, was irresistible. The egg cream was a lens through which Nora and I could examine the complex intersection of food, history, and memory. And making a movie together gave us the chance to down a lot of egg creams.

What was your greatest challenge during the filmmaking process?

Nora: Adolescence! You’ll notice that the last scene in the film is at my Bat Mitzvah. Shortly thereafter, my life was overtaken by high school, college applications, and a thick cloud of teenage angst from which I finally emerged to finish the movie, eleven years after starting it.

Peter: Patience. Though it took eleven years of waiting for Nora to return to the project, they were eleven years during which I got to do a great deal of thinking about chocolate soda drinks born in Jewish immigrant neighborhoods a long time ago.

Any thoughts you’d like to share about screening this film in a Jewish context?

Nora: The egg cream is, in many ways, a metonym for the American Jewish experience. Jews use stories to make sense of things. The egg cream, to me, is a midrash, a story Jews tell to make sense of questions we have about the Torah. In this case, as is the case with most midrash, the egg cream creates as many questions as it answers.

Peter: The egg cream is a tall, cool glass of what it means to me to be a Jew in America.

What film/media has inspired you lately?

Nora: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and the poetry of Emily Dickinson.

Peter: The Handmaid’s Tale, the Boston Red Sox, and the Clash

What do you do when you’re not filmmaking?

Nora: I’m a writer and teacher currently getting my MFA in poetry at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. I teach creative writing at the University of Iowa, and to kids in the Iowa City area. Lately I have been interested in exploring the intersections of language and food, and have taken to deep frying my poems in a batter made of eggs and oil.

Peter: Mostly, I make films. But I also often go to the outer boroughs of New York in search of Asian food.

Lastly, gefilte fish: delicious, or disgusting?

Nora: Disgusting! Why on earth would you make a hybrid fish? But I suppose all food is a little bit disgusting, and more interesting for it. I love that people think the gefilte is a type of fish. There’s a wonderful haiku about this misconception, that reads:

lacking fins or tail

the gefilte fish swims with

great difficulty

Peter: Delicious! Horseradish adds pathos, and is another metaphor in the guise of a food. Maybe there’s a short film in that!

Inspiring communities to expand their understanding of Jewish life through film, media and dialogue. Presented by the Jewish Film Institute!

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