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Moriah Films & the Simon Wiesenthal Center into the Spotlight

By Timothy Lyons

In the summer of 1994, the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles announced the formation of Moriah Films "to undertake the production of films on major events and personalities in the 3,500 year Jewish experience." A major goal for the new production unit would be "to reach young people and the unaffiliated who do not belong to synagogues and have not been reached by the Jewish community." Although focusing on the Center's primary area of concern, the Holocaust, officials did not see the unit as being limited in scope to that subject alone; from time to time, Moriah would produce films that encompassed the total Jewish experience. The Center, named after the re­nowned Shoah survivor and human rights activist, was established in 1977, and has become the largest institution of its kind in North America: an international center for Holocaust remembrance, the defense of human rights and the Jewish people. With a membership of more than 400,000 families, the Center is based in Los Angeles, next to its Museum of Tolerance, and maintains offices in New York,Toronto, Miami, Jerusalem, Paris and Buefios Aires. As the Cen­ter's education arm, the Museum of Toler­ance opened to the public in February 1993, its permanent and changing exhibits as a challenge to visitors: confront bigotry and racism and understand the Holocaust in both historic and contemporary contexts.

The inaugu­ral production by Moriah Films was Liberation (1994), covering both the Allied campaign to liberate Europe and Hitler's genocidal war against the Jews. The film reaches its climax with the dramatic liberation of Paris, the Benelux countries and the death camps, through to V-E Day. The script for the film was written by Holocaust historian Martin Gilbert and Wiesenthal Center Dean, Rabbi Marvin Hier. Produced by Arnold Schwartzman and Rabbi Hier, Liberation was directed by Schwartzman, with Richard Trank serving as executive producer. The film was narrated by Ben Kingsley, Patrick Stewart, Whoopi Goldberg, Miriam Margolyes and Jean Boht with an original score by Carl Davis, and premiered at the Deauville Film Festival in France on September 8th,1994.

Liberation was Sshwartzman's third feature-length documentary for the Wiesenthal Center. His first, Genocide, won him an Academy Award ® in 1981, and Echoes that Remain received the 1992 Houston International Film Festival Gold Special Jury Award. Trank joined the Cen­ter in 1981 and has served as Media Projects Director for the Center since 1984, along with being executive producer of films from the Museum of Tolerance. He is currently also executive producer for Moriah Films.

The most recent production from Moriah is The Long Way Home, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on January 17, 1997. The film examines the critical period 1945-48, when tens of thousands of refugees who had survived the Holocaust attempted to reach the Jewish homeland.

The film's focus includes the difficulties faced in establishing the State of Israel. Combining rare archival film and stills with new interviews, the film is narrated by Morgan Freeman, with the voices of Edward Asner, Sean Astin, Martin Landau, Miriam Margolyes, David Paymer, Nina Siemaszko, Helen Slater and Michael York. Writer/director is Mark Jonathan Harris, producers Rabbi Marvin Hier and Richard Trank, with original music composed and conducted by Lee Holdridge. The international premiere for The Long Way Home was held in June at a United Nations conference in Geneva on the Nazi gold issue. The film premieres in theatres beginning September 17th .