JFI Presents Online Shorts: WHAT’S IN A NAME

December 31, 2014

Director Daniel Robin is mistakenly booked for a flight under the name Robinowitz (which was actually his grandfather’s name). This coincidence leads him to examine his Jewish identity. The filmmaker explores and reclaims Rabinowitz as the family name — a name that his grandfather changed in the 1930s to avoid anti-Jewish quotas. Using home movies, interviews, and archival footage, he finds himself facing revelations about his ancestors, cultural identity, and his own authenticity.

(Screened at SFJFF34 as part of the Jews In Shorts program)

What inspired you to make this film?

A reoccurring theme in several of my films is American Jewish identity and I felt my grandfather’s story lent itself to my own thematic preoccupations. I’m also somewhat obsessed, of late, with narrative structure, particularly how fiction and non-fiction inform each other in terms of storytelling.

Why my grandfather changed our family name from Rabinowitz to Robin has always been steeped in family mythology, so I thought to use that intersection between fiction and reality as a point of entry into this conversation about American Jewish identity.

What was your greatest challenge during the filmmaking process?

The most challenging aspect in making this film was creating two fluid and parallel narrative arcs (my grandfather’s story and my own) and how they overlapped and were in conversation with one another. I was trying to create a dialogue between generations.

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

It’s interesting, this film and several of my other films have screened at the SFJFF, and the audiences seem to always have some sort of engagement with the work. But this is an exception in regard to the Jewish context. Without meaning to sound bitter (I’m more confused) the majority of American Jewish film festivals play it safe and shy away from unconventional work, which I think my films gravitate towards.

I think the programmers at these festivals are second guessing their audiences’ capacity to appreciate different approaches, and perhaps, provocative subject matter, but I could be wrong. The ironic thing is all of my films get programmed in very substantial film festivals (that’s aren’t Jewish themed) and the work is generally well received. I’m very grateful for the insightful and bold programming that’s consistently found at the SFJFF.

What film/media has inspired you lately?

There’s so much to list. I teach film production at Georgia State University and some of my students’ work is really exceptional. They inspire me. I’m also excited about the somewhat new interactive approaches to documentary filmmaking being produced by the National Film Board of Canada. There’re also some really amazing films (Sweetgrass, Leviathan, Manakamana) coming out of the Sensory Ethnography Lab at Harvard. Anything made by Ulrich Seidl.

What do you do when you’re not filmmaking?

Teach filmmaking, shop at local farmers markets, cook, ride my bike, watch movies…

Lastly, gefilte fish: delicious, or disgusting?

Delicious only if it’s homemade.

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

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