An Audience Award Winner Internationally and Changing America’s
Conversation about Faith and Disability
PRAYING WITH LIOR
Finally on DVD beginning March 24, 2009
Praying with Lior, the profoundly moving and entertaining documentary about an extraordinary family, a boy with Down Syndrome and his Bar Mitzvah, comes to DVD on March 24, 2009 following a year of success in theaters and festivals, churches and synagogues across the country and overseas.
Ilana Trachtman's feature-length documentary received a standing ovation at its world premiere at the 2007 San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, where Variety enthused: "Trachtman captures a complex family dynamic in which Lior isn't the only intriguing personality…These people are so interesting, and Trachtman's handling so intimate and involving, it would be very welcome if she revisited the family every so often, 'Up'-style."
Since then it has gone on to earn the highest grossing per screen average for an indie doc on opening weekend, to win audience awards at five different festivals, make top ten lists and gain critical acclaim. It was chosen by the State Department to screen at embassies around the world as an "ambassador" of American culture and filmmaking, and shown on Capitol Hill to support legislation to aid mothers carrying babies with Down syndrome. (The bill passed.) It will also be screened later this month at the upcoming Special Olympics in Idaho.
An engrossing, wrenching and tender documentary film, Praying With Lior introduces Lior Liebling, also called "the little rebbe." Lior has Down syndrome, and has spent his entire life praying with utter abandon. Is he a "spiritual genius" as many around him say? Or simply the vessel that contains everyone's unfulfilled wishes and expectations? Lior - whose name means "my light" - lost his mother at age six, and her words and spirit hover over the film. While everyone agrees Lior is closer to God, he's also a burden, a best friend, an inspiration, and an embarrassment, depending on which family member is speaking. As Lior approaches Bar Mitzvah, the Jewish coming-of-age ceremony, different characters provides a window into life spent "praying with Lior." The movie poses difficult questions such as what is "disability" and who really talks to God? Told with intimacy and humor, Praying With Lior is a family story, a triumph story, a grief story, a divinely-inspired story.
Describing Lior's Bar Mitzvah, an editorial in the Philadelphia Inquirer stated, "pre-conceived notions joyously explode." Praying With Lior is now the centerpiece of an ambitious outreach campaign to change the way people with disabilities are perceived and received by faith communities. According to the National Organization on Disability, over 54 million Americans are disabled. Less than half of our houses of worship are handicapped accessible. Lior's story presents a dramatic opportunity to demonstrate the contribution that every individual can make, no matter how "special." Lior's example shows us that his presence actually enhances everyone else's religious experience. For it’s contribution to this discussion, the film has been honored with media awards from the National Down Syndrome Congress and the Association of Americans with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.
Director Ilana Trachtman is a producer and director of several award-winning projects for PBS, Showtime, HBO Family and A&E, and had already proven adept at content-rich, character-driven cinema verité. Trachtman says, “I was not looking for a film subject, and I wasn't particularly interested in disability. I'm not sure I ever thought about disability. What I was doing had no connection to my career as a producer/ director. I was actually trying to pray. Searching for spiritual inspiration I attended a retreat for the Jewish New Year. As I sat in the service, anxious, distracted, counting the pages until I'd be free, I heard Lior's unabashed, off-key, ecstatic voice. When I turned to look at the source of this sound, I was struck to see a boy with Down syndrome. And I was surprised to find myself envious of this "disabled" child, who could pray as I wished I could. Over the course of this retreat, I stalked Lior, looking for the secret to his prayer.”
“Soon after, I read the article Lior's late mother had written 7 years earlier, about her 5 year-old son who had Down syndrome and could pray like nobody's business. Devora ended the article wondering what Lior's Bar Mitzvah would be like, wondering if she would live to see it. Reading that prophetic question, and knowing that she died, I felt compelled to tell the story where the article left off.”
“I didn't anticipate the passionate intensity of the audience response - the standing ovations, extended runs, rave reviews. While it's true that this film is about a Jewish child with a disability, it's the representation of unconditional love that affects people, inspiring them to write to me from around the world, each person also wanting a little bit of what Lior has.”
Trachtman was recently named one of the Forward 50, the Forward newspaper's list of 50 most influential American Jews. According to the Forward, Lior "breaks the silence on special needs ... in the Jewish community, forcing a long overdue dialogue on a topic that touches many thousands of lives."
The film features a soundtrack composed by the klezmer and bluegrass virtuoso Andy Statman, one of the most influential acoustic musicians of our time. The editor is the acclaimed Zelda Greenstein, and the cinematographer is Emmy Award-winning director/cameraman Slawomir Grunberg. This is the New York-based Trachtman's independent feature film debut.
DIRECTOR ILANA TRACHTMAN IS AVAILABLE FOR INTERVIEWS
PRAYING WITH LIOR
UPC #: 720229913140 / Catalog #: FRF913140D
Suggested Retail Price: $ 24.95
Pre-book Date: February 17, 2009 / Street Date: March 24, 2009
Praise for PRAYING WITH LIOR
AUDIENCE AWARDS FOR BEST DOCUMENTARY
*Boston Jewish Film Festival
*Washington Jewish Film Festival
*San Diego Jewish Film Festival
*Vancouver Jewish Film Festival
*Seattle Jewish Film Festival
"CRITIC'S PICK! Triumphant. A small miracle!" -Washington Post
"CRITIC'S PICK! The extraordinary life of Lior Liebling...touching." -NY Times
"CRITIC'S PICK! Poignant and profound." -Philadelphia Inquirer
"Captivating ... makes believers of us all." -LA Times
"FOUR STARS (Highest Rating). An utterly captivating heart-tugger surrounding the existence of a beloved, mysterious child. Seemingly, he has been touched by the hands of God. Or has he?"
"A warm and moving portrait."-Time Out Chicago
"Warm-hearted and mesmerizing, made with equal parts admiration and astonishment."-NY Sun
"Praying with Lior bores deep into your soul. That's a pretty good definition of a religious experience."
-Box Office Magazine
"An undeniably moving, at times spiritual experience"-Boston Herald
"A CROWD-PLEASING DELIGHT! Intimate and involving, fascinating and rather extraordinary! -Variety
"Fascinating, complicated, and moving in unanticipated ways. . .. earns every moment of the joy in its audience."-Culture Vulture
"There have been a number of very popular documentaries about religion in recent years, but Praying with Lior stands out as one of the most heartfelt and touching."-ABC News
"Funny and touching, brilliantly and lovingly made!"-Jewish Week
"At turns inspiring, heartbreaking."-Jewish Daily Forward
"Both amazes and inspires . . . powerful!" -Tikkun
"Heart wrenching...A gentle, tender-hearted portrait."-NY Newsday
"Exceptional ... earns every single bittersweet tear its audience sheds."-Film Forward
"Will deepen your understanding both of the 'handicapped' and of prayer."
-National Catholic Reporter
"Demands to be seen for its vivid sense of character and its notions of humanity's ability to overcome."
-Washington Square News
"Tender, assured... both hopeful and pragmatic."-Indiewire
"Complex, compelling ... handled with deftness and grace."-Cinematical
"Cause for celebration"-Slant
"Will melt your heart if you possess one."-Salon Magazine
"Deliciously complex."-Village Voice
"Transcendent"-Bang it Out
"Intimate, moving documentary ... refreshingly down-to-earth."-Onion AV Club
More information about the film, including press kits, photos, and additional playdates, can be found at http://firstrunfeatures.com/lior_press.html or at http://www.prayingwithlior.com
“One of the most meaningful documentaries I know”
-Dr. Walter Reich, Former Director, U.S. Holocaust Museum
HOUSE OF LIFE
The Old Jewish Cemetery In Prague
Available on DVD beginning March 24, 2009
This solemn yet joyous documentary tells the story of The Old Jewish Cemetery in Prague, the site of layer upon layer of buried members of the once-vibrant Jewish community of the ghetto. Nearly a million people from all over the world now visit the cemetery each year, and House of Life chronicals it’s history, which is rich in lore, mysticism, tradition, and philosophy.
Claire Bloom narrates tales of great rabbis and philanthropists and the story of the giant golem, created from clay to protect the Jewish people. The 12,000 stones may be covering as many as 100,000 members of Progue’s historic Jewish community.
Under the German occupation in World War II, the cemetery was the only place where Jewish children were allowed to play. Later, under communists, lovers met there for trysts. Today the neighborhood and former ghetto has transformed into a fashionable area. The cemetery – and film – serve as a powerful reminder of the indomitable spirit of a people determined to honor their past and preserve the lessons of history.
Allan Miller has produced and directed over 35 films and television programs around the world. He won an Academy Award for best Feature Length Documentary for his 1979 film FROM MAO TO MOZART - Isaac Stern in China, and in 1975 for THE BOLERO, Best Short Feature, with Zubin Mehta and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. SMALL WONDERS, the story of a violin program in the public schools of East Harlem, was nominated for an Academy Award in 1996. Miller won a national Emmy Award in 1999 in the Classical Music and Dance category for his film ITZHAK PERLMAN - Fiddling for the Future, for PBS. In 1999 he completed THE TURANDOT PROJECT, in collaboration with Zubin Mehta and Zhang Yimou, in the staging of the Puccini opera in Florence and in the Forbidden City in Beijing. Other award winning films include MEMORIES OF EUBIE, with Eubie Blake; A HUNGRY FEELING - The Life and Death of Brendan Behan; HIGH FIDELITY – The Adventures of the Guarneri String Quartet; I HAVE NOTHING TO SAY AND I AM SAYING IT - JOHN CAGE; and NOVEMBER'S CHILDREN - Revolution in Prague. In 2001 Miller directed IN SEARCH OF CEZANNE, a docudrama, and BOATS LIKE SAILS, about a painting by renowned American painter Paul Resika. He completed PERLMAN IN SHANGHAI, in August, 2002.
Mark Podwal is best known for his drawings on The New York Times OP-ED page. In addition, he is the author and illustrator of books for children as well as for adults. Most of these works typically focus on Jewish legend, history and tradition. Exhibited in museums throughout the world, his art is represented in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Fogg Art Museum and the Library of Congress. Though he always loved to draw, Podwal never pursued formal art training and eventually his parents encouraged him to become a physician. While attending NYU’s School of Medicine, his passion for drawing once again crept in: the tumultuous events of the 1960’s compelled Podwal to create a series of political drawings that were published as his first book The Decline and Fall of the American Empire. These images were brought to the attention of an art director at The New York Times, and in 1972, his first drawing appeared on its OP-ED page. That drawing of the Munich massacre was later exhibited at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs Palais du Louvre.
Podwal is the author and illustrator of Jerusalem Sky: Stars, Crosses and Crescents, A Sweet Year, Doctored Drawings, A Jewish Bestiary, Freud’s da Vinci, among others. King Solomon and His Magic Ring, a collaboration with Elie Wiesel, won a Silver Medal from the Society of Illustrators in 1999 and You Never Know, his collaboration with Francine Prose, won a National Jewish Book Award in 1998. Fallen Angels, a collaboration with Harold Bloom, was published in the fall of 2007.
Beyond his works on paper, Podwal’s artistry has been employed in an array of diverse projects, including the design of a series of decorative plates for the Metropolitan Museum of Art. His work has been animated for public television in A Passover Seder with Elie Wiesel (Time Warner), engraved on a Congressional Gold Medal, and woven into an Aubusson tapestry that adorned the ark in the main sanctuary of Temple Emanu-El in New York. Moreover, he designed sixteen glass windows for the United Jewish Appeal Federation Headquarters in New York. Podwal is represented by Forum Gallery and has exhibited there since 1977. His papers are archived in the Princeton University Library.
DVD BONUS FEATURES: PHOTO GALLERY, FILMMAKER BIOGRAPHIES
Selected Praise for HOUSE OF LIFE:
“You’ve enriched the world with ‘House of Life.’ Watching it was a sad but ennobling pleasure. It’s one
of the most meaningful documentaries I know.”
-DR. WALTER REICH, FORMER DIRECTOR, U.S. HOLOCAUST MUSEUM
“This poignant evocation moves the viewer to appreciate a very special memory – that of ancient stones.”
-ELIE WIESEL, NOBEL LAUREATE AND AUTHOR OF NIGHT
HOUSE OF LIFE: The Old Jewish Cemetery in Prague
52 minutes, color, in English, 2007
UPC: 720229913676 • Catalog #: FRF 913676D • SRP: $24.95 / CAN: $29.95
Street Date: March 24, 2009
More Jewish Experience titles available at www.firstrunfeatures.com