Shalom Life | September 17, 2014

Director Len Pearl on his Documentary: ‘The Jewish Canadians'

Exclusive interview sheds light on documentary about Jews’ role in Canadian history

By: Ashley Baylen

Published: March 30th, 2012 in Culture » Film » Interviews

Director Len Pearl on his Documentary: ‘The Jewish Canadians'

Len Pearl is an award-winning filmmaker, producer, and director from Toronto.

After graduating from Osgoode Hall Law School, Pearl pursued a career in entertainment and corporate law. He quickly realized that law was not his passion, and left the corporate world to follow his dreams of creating films.

Birthright Israel, Pearl’s first documentary, was broadcast on Canadian television and garnered acclaim at international film festivals.

Pearl and his wife, Rachel Alexander, have since founded the Leonard & Rachel Pearl Family Fund, helping to send young adults on the birthright Israel program and providing food for Holocaust survivors living in Toronto.

His upcoming two-part documentary series, The Jewish Canadians, is currently in production. Pearl took some time out of his busy shooting schedule to speak with Shalom Life.

Ashley Baylen (AB):Can you please tell us about what inspired you to create “The Jewish Canadians”?

Len Pearl (LP): My son was watching a story about the Jewish Americans a few years back and was very excited about the history. I knew a little about our Jewish Canadian history and started telling him some of the great Canadian Jewish stories. I was surprised he did not know these stories. It was at that point that I said we need to make a documentary telling our rich Canadian Jewish history - not only to educate the young, but to educate everyone. We should have a great sense of pride about what our Jewish community in Canada has accomplished. Also, with the rise of anti-Semitism in the world, it's important that others in the Canadian mosaic know, that we struggled to achieve our dreams that we have helped to build our community. So, I started reading lots of historical books and got even more excited about doing a film.

AB: I understand the documentary follows Jewish history in Canada over the past 250 years. That is a huge undertaking. Do you have a specific focus and how have you gone about finding information?

LP: The Jewish Canadians will explore important and distinct periods in the evolution of Jewish life in Canada, ranging from the early, fledgling years when Jews were not allowed to set foot on what would ultimately become Canadian soil. The film will reveal amazing acts of bigotry, tolerance and cross-cultural understanding between Jews and their compatriots and how the story of Jewish Canadians helped open the door to the modern multi-cultural Canada. The series will follow Jewish Canadians who have made significant contributions to Canadian life through their foresight, savvy and vision. Many of these people are now world-famous, but this story also chronicles the roles by Jewish Canadian tailors and shopkeepers, soldiers and bankers, peddlers and merchants, labour organizers and civil rights activists, all of whom also helped shape the Canadian landscape. We have six researchers working across Canada looking through archival material. We also have been lucky to bring aboard a very talented writer, Dan Horowitz, who is adding a depth and life into the film. We also anticipate 200+ interviews and the original interviews will be housed at Ontario Jewish archives and other archives across Canada, so future researchers can have access.

AB: Which organizations and individuals have contributed to the making of this film?

LP: The project is being produced by 12 Tribes Productions and another co-production partnerwith the support of UJA Federation of Greater Toronto. I approached UJA Federation’s President & CEO Ted Sokolsky a few years ago about doing this documentary and he fully supported the project. Although the UJA is not providing any financial backing, Ted’s a leader with great vision. He saw the importance of the film and gave me the creative freedom to tell the story without any interference or restrictions. That being said, this is not a Toronto project. It’s a project that includes all of Jewish Canada. We have the support of Jewish Federations across Canada. Additionally, a number of historians and scholars and community leaders are supporting the project and have provided some great guidance.

AB: How would you describe the style of the film?

LP: Forget slow-zooming black and white shots, The Jewish Canadians combines live action dramatization, powerful animations along with fresh archival material. Add tremendous access and you get an epic dramatic look and feel. We are filming with the red camera and C300 and the footage looks incredible. The Jewish Canadians is a panoramic drama spanning centuries, continents and worlds. It will take the viewer on a vivid and detailed journey through six distinct periods in the life of Jewish Canada.

AB: When can we expect to see a finished product?

LP: Filming should be complete by Fall 2012 with a scheduled release date in 2013.

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