This month in NYC there are several film festivals. Kulturfest, the Israel FIlm Center and the JCC have Yiddish and Israeli films. The Human Rights Watch, American Black, Lower East Side, Rooftop, BAMcinema, and Brooklyn Film Festivals all have interesting selections.
But I tend to think that the Ecuadorian Film Festival at Tribeca Cinemas has one of the most interesting documentaries. “An Unknown Country” will be screened at the Ecuadorian Film Festival in New York (June 17-21) on Saturday, June 20th. Directed by award-winning, film producer Eva Zelig, the film tells the story of 4,000 Jews of Ecuador during WWII. Zelig was born in Ecuador to Czech-born Jewish refugees.
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 these 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 their deportations. For his life-saving efforts, he was honored posthumously in 2011 by Israel’s official memorial to the victims of the holocaust.
Zelig’s parents escaped the Third Reich and were lucky to be granted safety in South America. At first they tried farming, then tried various businesses in Ambato. They opened a restaurant in Cuenca, but it failed. So they moved to Salinas to run a hotel; and then tried a restaurant again in Guayaquil. It tragically burned down. They survived, they persevered. And this film now thanks Ecuador and its people. (Currently, Ecuador’s Jewish population is just a few hundred, not counting the American Jewish retirees that have moved to some gringo communities)