Thursday, October 20, 2011

About "An Unknown Country"

My name is Eva Zelig.

In my television career I’ve received many awards, including an Emmy, for programs I produced for major broadcast networks from ABC to PBS.  All that time I told other people’s stories.  Now, I’m producing a documentary to tell my own -- the story of my family and of others who fled Europe escaping the Nazi terror to find refuge in an unlikely destination: Ecuador.

An Unknown Country is an independent film that will tell the story of those who were able to reach the shores of this small South American country -- barely known at the time.  Featuring first hand accounts and archival material, the story will open a window on the exiles' perilous escape and difficult adjustment as they remade their lives in an unknown land.

Through the exiles’ personal testimonies, the documentary chronicles their heartbreaking search for a country that would take them in when most had closed their doors.  It sheds light on why Ecuador, a small country with few resources, granted asylum to the refugees.  It also explores the actions of Ecuador’s consuls in Europe: some exacted heavy fees for visas, others helped for humanitarian reasons.  One consul daringly issued Ecuadorian passports to stateless refugees to delay deportation.  For his life-saving efforts, he was honored posthumously in 2011 by Israel’s official memorial to the victims of the holocaust.

The film will provide fresh insights as it relates the refugees’ struggles to build new lives and hold on to elements of their European culture in what was for them an exotic, unfamiliar land.  It explores the relations between the local inhabitants and the European immigrants in their midst, and highlights the contributions the immigrants made to the economic, artistic, and social life of their host country.
In the present day we follow Ecuador’s small Jewish community as it unveils designs for a monument to honor the humanitarian consul.  The children of the refugees -- now living abroad -- return to Ecuador, the land of their birth.  During this reunion, they reconnect with childhood memories and rediscover the unique and peculiar aspects of living in the country that welcomed their parents.
I began work on this project in 2010, eight months before I traveled to Ecuador to shoot the reunion.  I interviewed exiles, their children and grandchildren, both there and in the United States.  In the refugees’ poignant experience I found a lesson in survival and perseverance.  I was reminded that it's important than ever to capture and preserve the stories of those who witnessed and endured one of the most harrowing periods of the 20th century.

Until now I have borne the costs of producing this film, as I shot most of the footage and edited this preview, but have taken it as far as I can alone.  I’m coming to Kickstarter to raise public support to get us to the next stage: a completed cut of the full-length story.  I will be working with Terence Taylor, a producer for New York's PBS station, WNET/Thirteen, who also designed The Big Bang Theory logo and motion graphics for POV and Independent Film Channel programs.  He will be cutting the film and designing additional elements, as he did in the preview.  We hope to release An Unknown Country in 2012, and every dollar you donate here brings us closer to telling this moving story.

The amount we’ve set for our Kickstarter goal is the minimum needed to progress.  These funds will be used for expenses related to the final editing of the film, including additional research, shooting new footage, obtaining rights to archival photos, stock footage and music.  We intend to use our first edit of the full film to raise completion funds from private and institutional funding.  Any amount above our goal that’s raised here will go to the next phase of our funding.

If you like what you see and want more of this story, please donate.  Your generous contribution helps bring this little-known facet of the history of the Holocaust to a worldwide audience.  Your pledge will not be displayed.  All pledges are hidden, but the total amount raised is made public.  Some premiums will be available before others.

What happens if this project doesn't reach its funding goal? Your credit card is not charged unless and until the goal is reached.

SPREAD THE WORD to family, friends, and your own group mailing lists.  Please pass on this Kickstarter page to everyone you know through Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, your blog, and the old-fashioned way -- word-of-mouth!

Thank you!