BFI MEDIATHEQUE: ‘God’s Own County: Yorkshire On Screen’
BFI - God’s Own County: Yorkshire on screen
TORONTO JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL
National Post - Diary: Stuart Hand of the Toronto Jewish Film Festival
TORONTO JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL
KATIE CHATS interview with Director Simon Glass and Producer Harvey Ascott
LEEDS INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
Interview with Director, Simon Glass
from LEEDS INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
THE LAST TRIBE
Who is the Last Tribe? They are the ancestors of the Eastern European Jews who arrived on British shores at the turn of the 20th Century in search of America. With no money and unable to speak the language, my great-grandparents stepped off the boat determined to make a better life for themselves and their children.
But the story of the Jewish community is no different from any other community – the Irish who settled before us, and the Black, Polish and Asian communities who have settled since us. Each came to this country fleeing persecution, and each worked its way out of poverty for a better life and acceptance by their new homeland.
One strand that runs throughout the film is a 19th Century Russian Jew who arrives in 21st Century Leeds. It’s a series of silent sketches that shows the eternal wandering Jew searching for his people who have since moved on and left him in the past.
My great-grandparents came to this country as poor immigrant aliens, but several generations on and there is little that distinguishes me from any other white male in the street. As Jews were accepted into the mainstream they became more integrated into society, forgetting their religion, their traditions and their history. Today, there are fewer than 7,000 Jews living in Leeds. A century ago, the Jewish population of Leeds was over 30,000.
As this was my first documentary film, I looked at everything I could from early German and Soviet documentaries to anything from the Free Cinema and Cinema Verité movements. I knew I wanted to capture portraits of the community throughout its evolution, carefully lit and composed, but I was desperate to let the camera fly off the hook and capture all kinds of unexpected moments. Amazingly, the interviews we created extracted some wonderfully humorous and poignant moments from our characters.
I also took a great deal of inspiration from the great directors of isolation and loneliness including Kubrick and Sergio Leone to create the vast black on white city landscapes our 19th Century Russian Jew wanders through in search of his tribe, as well as, of course, Charlie Chaplin for his comic timing and sweet sense of irony.
LAUGHTER & SUFFERING
I learned through making this film that both laughter and suffering have become equal parts of life for this community – and indeed the Jewish culture. I filmed over 25 key characters from the Jewish community in Leeds from humble tailors to multi-millionaire businessmen, Rabbis to Football Club Chairmen. Despite fighting their way out of the inner-city slums against poverty, discrimination and anti-Semitic attacks, they still recount their journey with great energy and humour.
It’s a lost delicacy, a lost tradition like many others that has sadly evaporated with the integration of the Jewish community into mainstream society. It’s an example of how traditions are continually being lost.
Many of the characters in the film were brought up speaking Yiddish – a wonderful language with great melody and humour that is barely used anymore. It was great to capture some of this in the film, but sad to see it being lost with this last generation. One day I hope to make a film about a failed amateur Yiddish Theatre Group, in Yiddish.