Monday, April 23, 2007

Jews of Libya home movie hits the big time

A new documentary by Vivienne Roumani-Denn, The Last Jews of Libya, began life as a home video for children's birthday parties. It is showing in May at a prestigious New York film festival, TriBeCA (see trailer). Report in the New York Post (with thanks: Heather):

"April 22, 2007 -- After the birth of his second child, UBS media banker Aryeh Bourkoff bought a digital camera and asked his mother to document their family's history for his kids to see as they grow up.

"Turns out the resulting video, "The Last Jews of Libya," will be seen by a lot more people than Bourkoff's kids. The film was accepted into this week's TriBeCa Film Festival as a documentary feature, earning Bourkoff's mom, Vivienne Roumani-Denn, a director's credit and the Wall Street banker an executive producer title.

"I just thought it would be something to show at my kids' birthday parties," Bourkoff, 34, said over coffee with The Post.

"But when Roumani-Denn found a handwritten memoir about her mother's - Bourkoff's grandmother's - experiences living as a Jew in Libya during World War II, she instantly knew she was onto something more.

"It was written from a very personal perspective, but it was universal in the way everything she wrote was so intertwined with the war," Roumani-Denn said.

"The low-budget, 50-minute film, premiering May 2, uses the Roumani family to tell the story of how war and cultural dislocation forced the entire Libyan Jewish community out of the country.

"The emotional tale has already garnered some big fans, including former Disney CEO Michael Eisner.

" 'The Last Jews of Libya' is a fantastic documentary that in the end made me realize how lucky I was to be born in America," Eisner said of the film.

"Another big fan of the film, Sundance Channel CEO Larry Aidem, was also instrumental in getting the film out of Bourkoff's living room and in front of a larger audience. So impressed was Aidem with the film that he not only bought the domestic television distribution rights to the movie for the Sundance Channel, but he also enlisted Isabella Rossellini, with whom he was already working on a Sundance project, to narrate."

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