Faculty documentary honored at Academy Award-qualifying festival

August 12, 2009

A documentary film produced by three Penn State faculty members this week earned its fifth award of the festival season, this time as Best Feature Documentary from the Rhode Island International Film Festival -- an Academy Award-qualifying festival.

The film, "No. 4 Street of Our Lady," tells the remarkable yet little-known story of Francisca Halamajowa, a Polish-Catholic woman who rescued 16 of her Jewish neighbors during the Holocaust by cleverly passing herself off as a Nazi sympathizer.

The film was produced by three faculty members in the College of Communications -- Barbara Bird, an associate professor in the Department of Film-Video and Media Studies; Judy Maltz, a senior lecturer in the Department of Journalism; and Richie Sherman, an assistant professor in the Department of Film-Video and Media Studies.

The Rhode Island International Film Festival is one of 63 worldwide, among more than 7,000, accredited by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Opening night at the Providence Performing Arts Center attracted a record crowd of 1,900 film enthusiasts.

The six-day festival featured 235 films from 57 countries and 31 states in the United States. More than 3,400 films were submitted to the festival for consideration. While the honor at the festival does not qualify "No. 4 Street of Our Lady" for Academy Award consideration, the recognition at such an exclusive event clearly adds to the film's overall success.

Since opening to a sold-out audience in March at the State Theatre in State College, "No. 4 Street of Our Lady" has been playing in festivals around the United States, with special screenings of the film held at community centers and universities. It has been accepted for upcoming screenings at the Kansas City International Film Festival, the COMMFEST Global Film Festival in Toronto and the Savannah Film Festival in Savannah, Ga.

It earlier earned a prestigious CINE Golden Eagle award, and plans are under way to broadcast "No. 4 Street of Our Lady" on WPSU-TV this fall.

The release of the feature-length documentary culminated three years of production work that took the faculty members to Israel, Ukraine and numerous locations around the United States, where they gathered material, conducted interviews and captured dramatic moments on camera.

The film draws on excerpts from a diary kept by one of the survivors, Moshe Maltz, whose granddaughter is one of the filmmakers. It also incorporates testimonies from other Jews saved by Halamajowa, her descendants and former neighbors, as they reconnect on a trip back to Sokal. Powerful location shots add another rich dimension to the story, providing the backdrop as the drama unfolds.

Bird said she was initially attracted to the project after reading Maltz’s diary.

"I was completely drawn in by his account of this amazing rescue story," she said. "Another powerful element for me was the willingness of the survivors to face their difficult and tragic past, after 60 some years of silence."

For Sherman, the key challenge was finding the right visuals to bring the past alive.

"What I tried to do was draw on a palette ranging from high-definition video images to hand-processed black-and-white film in order to strike the right tone in this piece," he said.

Maltz, the granddaughter of the diarist, said that beyond her personal connection to the story, as a journalist, "what was really exciting for me in this whole process was discovering new things about a story I thought I already knew everything about. The interviews we did and the trip we took to Sokal led us to new bits of information that make the story that much richer."

"No. 4 Street of Our Lady" creates a dialogue of varying points of view, as Moshe Maltz’s written recollections and responses to events are woven together with the present-day oral memories of the remaining living survivors, as well as the handed-down stories of the Halamajowa family and testimonies of the rescuers’ former Ukrainian neighbors.

The film also makes use of old videotape, home movies, archival footage and documents found in the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum. Interviews with Professor Omer Bartov of Brown University, an internationally recognized scholar on Jewish life in Galicia, Amos Goldberg, an expert on Holocaust diaries, and Irena Steinfeldt, head of the Righteous Among Nations Department at Yad Vashem, provide historical and geographical context.

  • Faculty filmmakers Barbara Bird, Judy Maltz and Richie Sherman

    IMAGE: John Beale

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated January 09, 2015