Center for Jewish Film takes rare find to festival
'Breaking Home Ties' was lost until Sharon Rivo found it, mislabeled, in Berlin
Things are not always as they seem in the film "Breaking Home Ties."
And that goes for the movie itself, not just the plot.
The 1922 silent film, directed by Frank Seltzer and George Rowlands, was thought lost until Sharon Pucker Rivo '61, executive director of the Brandeis-based National Center for Jewish Film (NCJF), discovered the sole remaining print in a Berlin archive in 1984 – under the wrong title. Following lengthy restoration work, which included replacing the title, "Breaking Home Times" will have its world premiere at the Jerusalem International Film Festival on July 12. This marks the 21st consecutive year that NCJF, which represents more than 40 Israeli filmmakers, has premiered a film from its collection at the festival.
The film, the last to be shot at the Betzwood Motion Picture Studio in Philadelphia, focuses on a Jewish family in pre-revolutionary Russia and in New York.
Thinking he has killed his friend in a jealous rage, David Bergmann flees Russia for America, where he becomes a successful lawyer and woos the boss' daughter. Meanwhile, his wealthy parents sell their home in St. Petersburg and immigrate to New York. Immigrant life takes its toll on the parents, who are unable to locate their son, who is hiding from his past. They fall into poverty. The mystery unfolds from there as audiences find out what happened to his the friend, whether David marries the boss' daughter and whether he meets his parents again.
"There was a real rise in anti-Semitism in the 1920s," says Lisa Rivo, NCJF associate director. The array of Jew-haters ranged from Henry Ford at the top of the corporate America to the Ku Klux Klan and white supremacists of the South. "There was a hope that new media would be able to respond to it."
The film is rare both in its portrayal of Jewish culture and in its very existence. Only 20 percent of all films from the 1910s to 1920s survive, according to Lisa Rivo, assistant director for NCJF. The survival rate for independent films is even lower, and the survival rate for silent films with Jewish content is smaller still.
The surviving print, which had German intertitles, or title cards, underwent extensive work including 35 millimeter film-to-film and additional digital restoration, as well as translating and shooting the intertitles back into English. "Breaking Home Ties" will be available for festival and public exhibition screenings following its premiere.
The film will be shown at 6 p.m. at the Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem. There will be live musical accompaniment by Amit Weiner and Sharon Pucker Rivo will host a Q&A after the screening. Tickets can be purchased online or in Israel by phone at 02-565-4350.