CMU Film Fest focuses on Jewish migration with ‘Separations’

CMU Film Fest focuses on Jewish migration with ‘Separations’

Andrea Seligmann Silva’s mother, Edith, was only 3 when her parents boarded the last boat out of Nazi Germany in 1939.

Decades later, Silva, then living in Europe, and her four siblings were reunited in Sao Paulo, leaving the family to question just how migration — and the trauma of their mother — affected their lives.

It’s not an unfamiliar story for Diaspora Jews around the world, but Silva’s has a twist: it was the subject of an autobiographical film called “Separations.”

Her story comes to Pittsburgh on Wednesday, March 2, 8 p.m., in McConomy Auditorium, with a special preview screening of “Separations” prior to the Carnegie Mellon University International Film Festival. This film’s co-creator, Mieke Bal, a cultural theorist and scholar, will also lead a discussion about her work and migratory culture following the film.

This year’s festival, which runs March 17 to April 10, includes films from, “all over the world that are somehow connected with issue of migration,” said Festival Director Jolanta Lion, as the 2011 theme is “Faces of Migration.” “[‘Separations’] touches on the subject of identity. It’s about a family who was dispersed and trying to find out why they ended up in the places where their parents came from. It’s a film about movement and how we identify ourselves regarding ethnicity, or nationality.”

As Silva said in the film’s notes, “So is this my new identity? Am I a ‘Brazilian?’ Or ‘a Latin American living in Europe’? Or ‘the daughter of a Holocaust survivor?’ ”

“Separations” isn’t the only film to focus on Jewish migration; the festival closes on April 17 with “Diplomat,” presented in conjunction with the JFilm Festival, which itself opens March 24.

For Mieke Bal, who is based in Amsterdam, the story of Silva pointed to some universal themes ripe for exploration.

“This film is part of a body of work on issues of migration, identity and intercultural relations,” she said. “Migration is a positive phenomenon; it enriches societies and cultures.”

Bal pointed to the danger and impossibility of what she called “‘mono-cultures,” “as Nazi Germany literally demonstrated,” she said.

Films such as “Separations” were selected for the festival because of their “high artistic quality,” according to Lion.

“These are artworks. They are films that ask more questions than just passing along the message to the audience,” she said. “So we need to create special interactive events — panel discussions or special pre-performances — to engage and interest the public.”

One such question present in “Separations” is how trauma, such as experiencing the Holocaust, can change the process of communication between generations — the “‘trans-generational trauma’ or ‘post-memory’ visible in the difficulty of Edith and Andrea to communicate,” said Bal.

“This is not an art project, but an endeavor to understand better what happens in the lives of people, what happens in contemporary culture,” said Bal. “Looking back at the films with the audience is another round of analysis.”

(Justin Jacobs can be reached at

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