After graduating with an Honours English degree from McGill University in 1969, I had a vague plan to become a documentary filmmaker and went off to New York to study film directing at Columbia University. My studies at Columbia gave me a basic grounding in production and, after a stint as a news writer at CTV’s Canada AM, I felt ready to produce and direct my first documentary, a biography, A. M. Klein: The Poet As Landscape. The film was a success, broadcast by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in 1980, and widely distributed afterwards. After my wife, Naomi, and I had our twin children in 1981, I went to work for the CBC. I stayed there for eighteen years, working first in the documentary unit of CBC’s flagship current affairs program, The Journal, and then at the investigative program, The Fifth Estate, where I produced a number of important stories. After leaving the CBC in 1999, I resumed work as an independent producer/director/writer and have focused largely on films about Jewish history and culture, subjects close to my heart.
All that time I was also involved deeply with the world of photography, an involvement that began during my student days at Columbia. In 1984 I discovered my photographic calling when I purchased a large format camera and began to focus on architecture-based images. I see myself working in the spirit of Eugene Atget who, before World War One, photographed the Paris that was already old when he was young. A lot of my work has been documentation of the industrial and commercial built environment in Toronto, Montreal, and other cities, particularly photography of brick buildings of the late 19th and early 20th century, small business and commercial store fronts, institutional and vernacular architecture, and churches and synagogues. As I moved exclusively into colour work in the nineties, I began also to feel the influence of the painter, Edward Hopper, with his beautiful renderings of nineteenth century urban structures in clear, raking, morning and evening light. He painted the city the way I experienced it for the first time as a child in the downtown streets of Montreal, the way I wanted to capture it on film.
While my main photographic vocation has been depiction of the urban environment in Canada and abroad, other subjects have also drawn my attention. For years, I spent many weeks of spring and fall making images of the park-like setting of Toronto’s Mount Pleasant Cemetery, which is also a major city arboretum. Since 1998 I have documented the Klezmer (Yiddish music) revival, making portraits of the great singers and musicians and their students at the annual KlezKanada festival north of Montreal and at the Ashkenaz festival in Toronto and elsewhere. Another major project, which began after I started shooting a film about the Lodz Ghetto in 2007, has been the photography of Jewish cemeteries and other Jewish historical sites in Poland and, more recently, western Ukraine. The major cemeteries there are certainly the largest and perhaps most significant repositories of material culture of Jewish life in Europe, nearly ended by the Holocaust.
I continue to love the activity of making photographs and these various engagements make every day of photography a creative adventure.
The Posthumous Landscape: Jewish Historical Sites in Western Ukraine
Reuben & Helene Dennis Museum, Beth Tzedec Congregation, Toronto, May 2 to August 27, 2017
Architectural Devolution: Industrial Buildings in a Post-Industrial Age
Twist Gallery, Toronto, May 3-28,2016
Built to Last: Montreal’s Enduring Architecture
IX Gallery, Toronto, April 28 to May 29, 2015
Vessels of Song: Faces of New Jewish Music (Take II Expanded)
Reuben & Helene Dennis Museum, Beth Tzedec Congregation, Toronto, December 8, 2014, to March 2015
Vessels of Song: Faces of New Yiddish Music
Miles Nadal JCC, Toronto, July 31 to September 3, 2014
The Posthumous Landscape: Jewish Sites of Memory in Poland Today
Reuben & Helene Dennis Museum, Beth Tzedec Congregation, Toronto, October 2013 to April 2014
Early Sunday Morning: New Urban Photographs
Twist Gallery, Toronto, May 2013; Image Foundry, Toronto, June to September, 2013
Yiddish Music in Pictures
KlezKanada Summer Festival, Camp B’nai Brith, Lantier, Quebec, August 2012
Toronto: A City Becoming (with Scott Johnston and Michael Awad)
David Mirvish Books, Toronto, June to August, 2008
Recurrent Memories: Historic Jewish Sites in Canada and Poland (with Robert Burley and Wieslaw Michalak)
Gallery 345, Toronto, April-May 2008
Makom: Seeking Sacred Space (with David Cowles)
Koffler Centre for the Arts, Toronto, June to August, 2008; Emet Gallery, Montreal, December 2007 to March 2008
The Disappearing City
Bliss Gallery, Toronto, May 2006
Synagogues of the Plateau Mont-Royal
Mile End Library, Montreal, February 2001; Jewish Public Library, Montreal, October 2000
Yonge and Lawrence (Photographic Commission)
Royal Bank of Canada – Yonge/Lawrence branch, Toronto (on permanent display).
Brosko Property Management, Toronto
Lenczner Slaght Royce Smith Griffin LLP, Toronto
PHOTOGRAPHIC PUBLICATION & WRITING:
Traces of the Past: Montreal’s Early Synagogues, by Sara Ferdman Tauben, Vehicule Press, Montreal, 2011. A colour portfolio of photographs of Montreal’s early synagogues.
The Disappearing City, an essay and a portfolio of photographs in the book Toronto: A City Becoming, edited by David Macfarlane, Key Porter Books, Toronto, 2008
Like One That Dreamed: A Portrait of A. M. Klein, by Usher Caplan, McGraw-Hill Ryerson, Toronto, 1982. Photos of A. M. Klein’s Montreal milieu. Also was book’s photographic editor.
A Liberation Album: Canadians in the Netherlands, 1944-45, by David Kaufman and Michiel Horn, McGraw-Hill Ryerson, Toronto, 1980. Photos of Canadian veterans, historians and war brides. Co-author of the text. Photographic researcher and editor.
Canada-Israel Friendship, the Canada-Israel Committee, Ottawa, 1979. Photos of Israel. Editor and co-author of the text and book designer.
LECTURES & PRESENTATIONS:
Returning to Poland, a presentation in words and photographs regarding my work over the past seven years photographing Jewish historic sites in Warsaw, Lodz, Krakow, and other Polish cities, at the annual KlezKanada Summer Festival, Lamtier, Quebec, August 2012
The Struggle for Memory: Documentary Filmmaking, Survivors and the Holocaust, a lecture and video presentation on the moral issues and creative challenges in making films about the Holocaust, for the Jewish Studies Department at McGill University, March 2012
A. M. Klein: On His World and His Struggle, a presentation to the International A. M . Klein Conference, Institute for Canadian Jewish Studies, Concordia University, Montreal, October 2007
INDEPENDENT DOCUMENTARY FILM AND TELEVISION:Song of the Lodz Ghetto (135 min., 2010) Producer/director/editor for Sun-Street Productions (own production). A documentary film about music and culture in the Lodz Ghetto, including the life and songs of Yankele Herszkowicz, with performances by the group, Brave Old World. Brave Old World: Live in Concert (120 min., 2006) Producer/director/editor for Sun-Street Productions (own production). A two-hour-long DVD of a concert by the world’s premier performing group of new Jewish music From Despair To Defiance: The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising (72 min., 2003) Director/writer for Barna Alper Productions. A historical documentary about the most important act of Jewish resistance during the Holocaust, which took place in April and May of 1943. Part of the “Turning Points of History” series on Canada’s History channel. (Chris Award winner) Night of the Reich’s Pogrom (47 min., 2001) Director/writer for Barna Alper Productions. A historical documentary about Kristallnacht, the Nazi pogrom in Germany on Nov 9-10, 1938. Broadcast on “Turning Points of History” on Canada’s History channel. Man Alive: Rodger Kamenetz (24 min., 2000) Director/writer for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. A profile of the American Jewish writer, Rodger Kamenetz, who chronicled the encounter between Jews and the Dalai Lama. Broadcast by CBC and Vision TV, fall 2000. The New Klezmorim: Voices Inside the Revival of Yiddish Music (69 min., 2000)Producer/director/editor for Sun-Street Productions (own production). A celebration of klezmer music featuring some of the genre’s brightest stars. Premiered at Toronto’s Jewish Film Festival, May, 2000, and broadcast on thirteen PBS stations in 2001 and Bravo! Canada in 2002. Terror From the Skies (47 min., 1999) Director/writer for Barna Alper Productions. A historical documentary on the bombing of Guernica by the Luftwaffe during the Spanish Civil War. Broadcast on “Turning Points of History” on Canada’s History channel. A. M. Klein: The Poet As Landscape (56 min., 1980) Producer/director, own production. A biography of one of Canada’s most remarkable poets, Abraham Moses Klein. Broadcast on the CBC and distributed by the NFB.
WORK FOR THE CANADIAN BROADCASTING CORPORATION:THE FIFTH ESTATE:
Produced and directed more than fifty documentary and investigative reports on a variety of issues, including the following notable programs:
Ratline to Canada (38 minutes, 1996) – Canada’s last war crimes trial and the haven Canada provided for Nazi collaborators
Sealed in Silence (25 minutes, 1995) – The original story on the Airbus affair
Sheep for the Shearing (28 minutes, 1994) – Victims of the Lloyd’s insurance scandal
Violation of Trust (48 minutes, 1993) – Canada’s Indian residential schools
The People’s Builder (23 minutes, 1993) – A portrait of architect Moshe Safdie
Company Town (29 minutes, 1990) – The lives and deaths of Sydney coke oven workers
Donzel Young (25 minutes, 1992) – A drug dealer is wrongfully convicted of murder
Hidden Jews (21 minutes, 1991) – Polish Jews who survived the Holocaust as children
Hurricane (21 minutes, 1991) – The story of Rubin “Hurricane” Carter
Produced and directed more than sixty program segments ranging in length from fifteen to thirty-five minutes on a variety of political, cultural and social issues. Some notable segments:
Native Teen Suicide (15 minutes, Feb. 1988) – Canada’s national epidemic and shame
AIDS and Society (30 minutes, Sept. 1987) – The impact of an epidemic
The Reagan Doctrine (30 minutes, Mar. 1987) – US foreign policy in Latin America
Fifty Years of Public Broadcasting (30 minutes, Nov. 1986) – CBC at the crossroads
The Freedom Ride (30 minutes, Oct. 1986) – A look back at the US civil rights movement
Earthquake! (30 minutes, Jan. 1986) – Vancouver and the one in five hundred years’ danger
The Lubicons’ Last Stand (20 minutes, May 1984) – A small Alberta Indian band tries to obtain reserve status
Selected Awards (Documentary Film and Television):
Columbus International Film Festival, Chris Award, for From Despair to Defiance: The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising (2003)
Gemini Nomination, Best Writing in a Documentary Program, for Night of the Reich’s Pogrom (2001)
Gold Award (Historical Documentary), Houston International Film & Television Festival, Terror from the Skies (2001)
Gemini Nomination, Donald Britain Award for Best Documentary, Sealed in Silence (1995)
Anik Wilderness Award, Best CBC Documentary, Sealed in Silence (1995)
Canadian Assoc. of Journalists, Best Investigative Report, Network TV, Sealed in Silence (1995)
Columbus International Film Festival, Bronze Plaque, Hidden Jews (1991)
Golden Gate Award, San Francisco Film Festival, Best Social/Political Documentary, The Freedom Ride (1986)