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Family Mysteries and Family Histories in Personal Documentary Films

ID : 7051   
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This class explores contemporary films categorized as “personal documentaries.”  In each project of autobiographical visual storytelling, the filmmaker interviews family members, friends, and others to investigate unanswered questions about mysterious or hidden issues in his or her family’s past.  Our discussions will explore questions such as: how much we know about the circumstances of our birth and about the parents who raised us?  Why are some people curious to uncover family secrets (or simply learn more their parents’ or grandparents’ lives), while others are reluctant to probe or pry?  What motivates a director to create such a film; and what’s at stake — emotionally, ethically, and artistically — when the story is screened for a public audience?  How do these films function not only as particular family stories, but also as documents that shape new insights about the construction of personal identity, intimate relationships, and social belonging?  Specific themes to be addressed include immigration, adoption, sibling relationships, marriage, parenting, the strains of wartime/the Holocaust, transgender identity, race, class, and religion.  Join cultural historian Lori Rotskoff as we view and analyze seven fascinating, “under-the-radar” cinematic memoirs.  *Important note: Our first class will meet for two hours, from 10:30 am to 12:30 pm and will include an hour-long film screening of Alan Berliner’s film Nobody’s Business.  The remaining four class sessions will meet from 10:30 am to noon and require films to be viewed individually at home, through library loan or a video streaming service.  An Amazon prime membership is highly recommended to participate in this class.  Films to be discussed include: Alan Berliner’s Nobody’s Business (1996), Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell (2012), Doug Block’s 51 Birch Street (2006), Sharon Shattuck’s From This Day Forward (2015), Arnon Goldfinger’s The Flat (2012), Max Barbakow’s Mommy I’m a Bastard (2013), and Lacey Schwartz’s Little White Lie (2015).

Class Details

5 Sessions
Weekly - Wed

Westchester Reform Temple

Lori Rotskoff 



Please read:  Class meets on 1/16, 1/30, 2/13, 2/27, 3/6



Schedule Information

Skip dates: (No class on 01/23/2019, 02/06/2019, 02/20/2019)

Date(s) Class Days Times Location Instructor(s)
1/16/2019 - 3/6/2019 Weekly - Wed 10:30 AM - 12:00 PM Scarsdale, Westchester Reform Temple  Map Lori Rotskoff