REEL Ladies Features Director Roberta Grossman
“Blessed is the Match”
THE FILM: BLESSED IS THE MATCH
Narrated by Joan Allen, Blessed Is the Match is the first documentary feature about Hannah Senesh, the World War II-era poet and diarist who became a paratrooper, resistance fighter and modern-day Joan of Arc. With unprecedented access to the Senesh family archive, and through interviews, eyewitness accounts and the prolific writings of Hannah and Catherine Senesh, Blessed Is the Match recreates Hannah’s mission and imprisonment. The film explores Hannah’s childhood against the backdrop of significant historical events resulting in a rich portrait with several interlocking strands.
THE FILMMAKER: ROBERTA GROSSMAN
An award-winning filmmaker with a passion for history and social justice, Roberta Grossman has written and produced more than forty hours of documentary television. She was the series producer and co-writer of 500 Nations, the eight-hour CBS mini-series on Native Americans hosted by Kevin Costner. Grossman’s feature documentary, Homeland: Four Portraits of Native Action, premiered in February 2005, and has screened and won awards at more than forty festivals worldwide. Other writing and producing credits include In the Footsteps of Jesus, a four-hour special for the History Channel; Hollywood and Power: Women on Top, a special for AMC; The Rich in America: 150 Years of Town and Country Magazine for A&E, The History of Christianity: the First Thousand Years, a four-hour special on A&E, Medal of Honor, a six-part television series produced for U.S. News and World Report, and Heroines of the Hebrew Bible and Judas for the A&E series Mysteries of the Bible.
RL: WHEN DID YOU KNOW YOU WANTED TO BE INVOLVED IN THE FILM INDUSTRY?
RG: When I was graduating from U.C. Berkeley with a degree in history, I had no idea what to do with my life. I saw Bonnie Raitt (my musical idol) in concert with classic blues great Sippie Wallace and I thought, “let’s do a film about Sippie Wallace!” A friend and I got a grant from NEH Youthgrants and made that film. I went on from there.
RL: WHEN YOU REFLECT ON THE BEGINNING OF YOUR CAREER, WOULD YOU HAVE DONE ANYTHING DIFFERENTLY?
RG: No. I have been very fortunate to make a living as a documentary filmmaker. I’m not rich, have no nestegg, but what I do have is a lifetime of experiences learning and telling stories from history and exposing contemporary issues that I felt needed attention, so it’s been a rich career.
RL: HOW DID THE FILM, BLESSED IS THE MATCH, COME ABOUT FOR YOU AND HOW DID YOU FIND OUT ABOUT THIS WOMAN, HANNAH SENESH?
RG: I read Hannah Senesh’s diary in junior high and was very taken with Hannah’s high-minded idealism, her writing and poetry. I became a filmmaker right out of college and I started trying to make a film about Hannah immediately —but I was never able to get the funding. Finally, everything came together about three years ago. I’m very happy it took decades to get to make this film. By the time I was able to make the film, I had the experience to give me some confidence to take on this iconic figure. I was also a mother, closer in age to Hannah’s mother Catherine than to Hannah – and working with the film’s writer, Sophie Sartain, I realized that the way to tell this story was through Catherine’s eyes, as a mother-daughter love story. To me this made all the difference in the film – changed it from a story of a hero, which no one can relate to, to the story of a family which, hopefully, everyone can relate to.
RL: WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE FILM?
RG: My favorite part of the film is when Hannah and Catherine find each other, for the first time, on the yard together. Hannah’s finds a way to drop out of line and re-emerge in the line next to her mother. For a few precious moments, mother and daughter hold hands as they walk in circles around the prison yard.
RL: WHAT IS THE MAIN THING THAT YOU WANT AUDIENCES TO WALK AWAY WITH AFTER VIEWING THIS FILM?
RG: I simply want audiences to know the story of Hannah Senesh, her life and her writing and her conviction to the things she believed in. If people are inspired by Hannah, as I hope they will be, I also want them to think about what we can do today, as individuals, to address contemporary genocides such as the one occurring today in Darfur.
RL: WHAT WAS THE MOST DIFFICULT THING IN SHOOTING THIS PROJECT?
RG: The most difficult thing in making this film was letting go of all the aspects of Hannah life, editing out people and diary entries, poems and incidents in her life.
RL: HOW DID YOU GET PAST IT?
RG: I worked with a brilliant writer who found a way to concisely synthisize vast amount of material and still convey Hannah’s character.
RL: HOW LONG DID IT TAKE TO COMPLETE?
RG: Three years.
RL: WHAT IS NEXT FOR YOU?
RG: I’ve been so passionately involved in making Blessed Is the Match and in now self-distributing it, that I haven’t really had the mental space to dream up the next project. I’m ruminating on what to do next. But I look forward to being seized by an idea.
RL: WHAT IS IT ABOUT DOCUMENTARIES THAT DRAWS YOU?
RG: I love telling stories that I think might otherwise not be told, or forgotten. I love talking to scholars and reading history. I get chills talking to eye-witnesses to history.
RL: WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE FILM?
RL: ANY ADVICE FOR UPCOMING FILMMAKERS?
RG: Best to have a trust fund if you want to be a documentary filmmaker! I missed that memo and foolishly thought I could make my way in the world by doing what I loved. Turns out I was right. Or lucky. Or both.
RL: WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE FROM WOMEN IN THE FILM AND ENTERTAINMENT INDUSTRY?
RG: More credits, more opportunity to make movies, more recognition for the films they do make.
Blessed is the Match: The Life and Death of Hannah Senesh will open in New York on January 28, 2009 and additional markets in February and March 2009.
Visit http://www.blessedisthematch.com for more Info & Screening Schedule!