Meet the DocuWeek Filmmakers--Daniel Goldberg: 'Steps to Eternity'

Over the next couple of weeks, we at IDA will be introducing our community to the filmmakers whose work will be represented in the DocuWeekTM Theatrical Documentary Showcase, August 17-23. We asked the filmmakers to share the stories behind their films-the inspirations, the challenges and obstacles, the goals and objectives, the reactions to their films so far.
So, to continue this series of conversations, here is Daniel Goldberg, director/producer of Steps to Eternity.

Synopsis: Steps to Eternity follows Aaron, an elderly man in deteriorating health, as he walks from his apartment to the synagogue at daybreak. Holding on to his walker, it takes him about 20 minutes to walk approximately 100 yards. Steps to Eternity is a film about sheer determination, the faith and will of a man and, above all, his desire to live.

IDA: How did you get started in documentary filmmaking?

Daniel Goldberg: When we were growing up, my grandfather used to tell us fascinating stories about his experiences as an Eastern European Jewish immigrant in Mexico in the 1920s and how he began earning a living by traveling throughout the country peddling articles such as razor blades and scissors. When I was in film school I wrote a narrative screenplay based on the subject, but then I thought the real-life story was more interesting and decided to make a documentary on the subject, Un Beso a Esta Tierra (A Kiss to this Land).


IDA: What inspired you to make Steps to Eternity?

DG: In January of 2006 I reestablished contact with Steve Littman, a long-time friend and colleague who now studies holy Jewish texts in Jerusalem. He felt very strongly that we should make a documentary about his downstairs neighbor, an elderly man who walks to the synagogue every morning and evening holding on to his walker. Later that year, I traveled to Israel to attend a family wedding, and went to visit Steve. As we sat outside his building catching up, Aaron Cohen, the elderly man, happened to come out of his apartment, holding on to his walker, heading for the synagogue. I was immediately overcome by emotion as I watched him struggle to take each step. I
expressed my apologies to Steve for not heeding his earlier suggestion and decided right there and then that we would make the film.


IDA: What were some of the challenges and obstacles in making this film, and how did you overcome them?

DG: The initial challenge was how to make a compelling film about Aaron's walk to the synagogue. It is very moving to see the effort he expends, but still, what audience would have
the patience to sit and watch a film that is primarily about an elderly man walking about 100 yards in 20 minutes? (Andy Warhol fans, perhaps). It turned out that by addressing that challenge we found the key to making the film interesting. By placing the viewer directly in Aaron's experience, he or she
can understand both the great challenge he faces to pray in the synagogue each morning, and the intense determination that drives his steps. Of course, getting a 25-minute single shot right took quite a bit of preparation and planning with the camera and sound crew, but fortunately our executive producer Dror Wagshal found Haim Assias--widely considered to be the best steady-cam
operator in Israel--and we are very happy with the results.

In addition, we faced the challenge of filming very religious people, many of whom can be camera-unfriendly if they don't know you. Although some conflicts with the synagogue nearly cost us the shoot, fortunately the rabbi and his congregation ultimately agreed to take part in the film.


IDA: How did your vision for the film change over the course of the pre-production, production and post-production processes?

DG: Because of the one-shot nature of the film, there was not much room for a change of vision after the production. We did film an interview with Aaron, but soon discarded the idea of
cutting or using any voiceover because the experience of accompanying Aaron through his entire journey was conceptually stronger and spoke for itself.


IDA: As you've screened Steps to Eternity--whether on the festival circuit, or in screening rooms, or in living rooms--how have audiences reacted to the film? What has been most
surprising or unexpected about their reactions?

DG: Only a few people have seen the film so far, and their comments have been very encouraging. The film is having its world premiere at DocuWeek, so we are really looking forward to
seeing the reaction of audiences.


IDA: What docs or docmakers have served as inspirations for you?

DG: I have been very inspired by various films of many different filmmakers, both narrative and documentary. One in particular is Claude Lanzmann's Shoah.


Steps to Eternity will be screening at the ArcLight Hollywood as part of the Shorts Program in DocuWeek.

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