September’s Online Short: Kitty & Ellen

Directed by Leah Galant, United States, 2017 16 min., English

In the short documentary Kitty and Ellen, the incredible friendship of these two Holocaust survivors takes us through animated memories of their past and the impact of the 2016 U.S. election. Ultimately, the powers of friendship and humor are what make these women a resilient force during tumultuous times.

September’s Online Short includes a video intro from director Leah Galant. Read on for the Jewish Film Institute’s interview with Galant after the film:

JFI: What inspired you to make this film?

LG: Around 4 years ago, my mom’s friend told me she went on a trip with a group of women led by two Holocaust survivors. When she told me these trips focused on healing for women happened every year- I knew I wanted to meet these ladies!

Kitty and Ellen director Leah Galant

All of my expectations were exceeded when I met Kitty and Ellen. At the time, the story arc wasn’t clear but I knew I wanted to record their friendship and their stories. Sometimes passion projects take a backseat for school and work related obligations so the film was on hold until I came across the Sally Burns Shenkman Women Filmmaker Fellowship at the Jacob Burns Film Center. I received the fellowship last Fall which allowed me to finally finish the film with the support of the center and an incredible mentor and producer, Sean Weiner.

JFI: What was your greatest challenge during the filmmaking process?

LG: I think the hardest part of creating the film was navigating health challenges and making sure that their history and stories were preserved in a meaningful way.

The election also became an arc that was uncovered later in the process. I learned how to change and shift directions based on events that came up and I think the film became better because of those challenges.

JFI: Any thoughts you’d like to share about screening this film in a Jewish context?

LG: It’s important that younger Jewish folks like myself, whose grandparents that survived the Holocaust are no longer around — need to hear the stories of an aging generation. In a time when the political climate bears striking similarities to the past — these stories need to be told now more than ever.

On a lighter note- nothing is stronger than the friendship between Kitty and Ellen who are bonded by Chinese food!

JFI: What film/media has inspired you lately?

LG: I’ve been wanting to experiment more with narrative filmmaking so I have been deeply inspired by films that blend documentary and narrative styles. Thought provoking films such as DINA, and MOONLIGHT that effectively combine both techniques have been on my mind.

JFI: What do you do when you’re not filmmaking?

LG: The fact that I had to think about this question for a while indicates not very much! I absolutely love to cook. It brings out your creativity, relaxes you and eventually you get to enjoy the end product. Yum!

JFI: Lastly, gefilte fish: delicious or disgusting?

LG: I am a pizza bagel which means I am half Italian and half Jewish so I usually defer to my Italian roots when it comes to food. Unfortunately I am not a fan of the canned fish. I’ll take a Bagel Lox and Cream Cheese any day though!

To see more JFI Online Shorts, visit the archive here.