tv QA with Aviva Kempner CSPAN January 17, 2016 11:00pm-11:59pm EST
minister's questions. candidate tedan cruz makes a stop in new hampshire. announcer: this week, documentary filmmaker aviva kempner. she discusses her latest film, "rosenwald," about the late american businessman and philanthropist julius rosenwald. brian: aviva kempner, why did you do a documentary on julius rosenwald? aviva: i was lucky enough 12 years ago to be at martha's vineyard to attend a lecture that rabbi david saperstein, who is now our ambassador for
religion at the state department, was speaking and julian bomb. julian bomb was my hero. i thought i was going to talk about the civil rights era. but i was very surprised to learn about julius rosenwald. as soon as julian talked about him, a light bulb went off in my head about under known jewish euros. i have to say he is the most under known -- jewish heroes. i have to say he was the most under known. brian: who was he? aviva: he was a midwesterner, the son of an immigrant. he was born in springfield, which i think was a lot to do with what he was going to do later. his home was right across the street from abraham lincoln. lincoln had, of course, died before jewish rosenwald was born.
but his of gold told him the whole legacy of lingo say -- of lincoln was in the house. we should do something in the world. later on, he settled in chicago. he was in the clothing business. his brother-in-law brought him this proposal, sears roebuck, which was having a little bit of financial trouble and maybe we should invest in that. so julius rosenwald did. they made the company the biggest -- it was like the amazon before its time. it was the biggest retailer. everyone could order in. he ended up becoming a multimillionaire. he wasn't comfortable with that. when he was young in his
marriage, he had said, a third of the way, we should save a third and live on a third. he also had rabbi hirsch, who really priest -- who really preached you should do charity. he got involved in chicago. then he read a book of booker t. washington, "up from slavery." this slave narrative was very important. there are a lot of things that had to be changed. it totally opened up his head. he also read a book by baldwin who was in the railroad business who said we have a responsibility. so he invited booker t, who was coming to chicago, to a luncheon. they were very similar. with thoughts that we need to do something, very practical man, that we need to make a difference in the world.
he invited julius rosenwald. everyone had started from scratch and were asked to be on the board. he came on the train with his family and his rabbi and he was totally enamored. he said, yeah, i need to make a difference. prior to that, he has already been asked by the ymca to give money. he gave the closing grants for ymcas for african-americans because, in the early part of the 20th century, blacks had migrated north. coming first to establish themselves and then bringing the family up. he supported tuskegee and got involved in other charities.
on his 50th birthday, he decided to give away a lot of money. the slogan was "give while you live." he said to booker t, what do you want? he figured he would get another building on the campus. but booker t said to him, you know, we have college aged kids covered here in alabama. it's really the kids in the elementary schools that are suffering. african-american kids are getting poor education, horrible buildings. it is separate and not equal. he said, ok, let's build six schools in alabama. first, julius rosenwald says, oh -- he puts together these kid houses. the best thing booker t. washington ever did was say no.
i want the communities to build it. the best thing julius rosenwald said was, ok, a third comes from the african-american community, a third from the state, and lo and behold, the states did pitch in, and the third was julius rosenwald. at first, six schools were built. that was amazing. after that, it morphed into 5000 schools all over the south, including maryland. i never realized maryland was a jim crow-- state. john lewis is in the film. maya angelou went to a school. it made such a difference for these young african-americans because they had these teachers, beautiful buildings that had
light coming in, and the great, great grandfather of valerie jarrett who is the advisor to barack obama, robert taylor designed the schools. it was green architecture. there were such great pride in the schools. maya angelou is great talking about it. it was separate, but it is so wonderful. he gave a lot not only to tuskegee but to historical black colleges. in chicago, whenever he went to europe, he got an idea. he takes his family to munich and his kid loves the science museum and he says, ok, i am going to go back to chicago and build a science museum. your producer went as a young child.
then he realized, even in the north, when families were coming up during the great migration, the housing was so crowded for african-americans. the conditions were awful. he had seen this apartment complex with commercial buildings along the side and decided to build apartments. of course, they were called the rosenwald. people like jesse and -- people a jesse owens lived in it. anyone who was important would stay there. from housing to education to museum, he was a great philanthropist. brian: i want to run so people can see what it looks like, from your documentary.
it came out originally when? aviva: august of this year. it is still going around in one-shot deals in different cities. people are booking it every day we get calls. now i am working on the dvd to come out in the spring. brian: let's look at julius rosenwald from your documentary. >> most people are of the opinion that, because a man has made a fortune, that his opinions on any subject are valuable .don't be fooled by believing because a man is rich that he is necessarily smart. there is ample proof to the contrary. brian: what did you learn about him as a person? aviva: it is so interesting. that interview was one of the very few we were able to find. and it comes in about three fourths through the film.
one of the nicest thing about him was his -- one of the nicest things was his modesty. he really was a modest man. that expression right there hits it on the nail. in contrast to someone running for office today. what it really shows is that, for him, being the silent philanthropist is really the most important. it isn't so much getting your name on things, which of courses the rule of thumb -- of course is the rule of thumb. it is making a difference of helping people. i found that he lived it in his life as well as in his giving. he also established the
rosenwald fund that helped african-american artists. the great migration series was totally funded by this. the list goes on and on and on. it is sort of a who's who of black artists and intellectuals. it resonates today in the following way. the national trust for historic preservation realized, after the segregation, they still should've disbanded. but they have gone back. at least a hundred schools have been earmarked as landmarks, historical landmarks. clearly, just as they built the schools to begin with, there are historians and community centers and museums. apartments are being restored because they were in band and --
were abandoned in chicago. they are beautiful makes use income, apartment buildings and called the rosenwald courts. i read in the paper that there is a great major show in -- great migrations years at moma. the new york times front cover, they talked about all these artists, black artists, and half of who they listed are people in the film. they also funded woody guthrie. i think the lasting affect to support education and culture is really his legacy. but he also did something else. it's called stepping down in
philanthropy. hey wanted only to give money away in his lifetime and give it all away. you see atlantic philanthropies doing that now. you've heard about mark zuckerberg? it is wonderful what he and his wife want to do in terms of education. i want to send them the film just as an example of what you can do. again, there is a story in chicago where parents of a school or on a hunger strike. if someone could step in and give its will money, those parents would get involved to keep it open. he always says, learn from the past to see what you can do in the future. and that is what i try to do with all my films. brian: in your film, you have some film of the tuskegee students helping to build took ski -- build tuskegee. i want to show about 45 seconds
and give a comment on this. [some clip] >> booker t. washington insisted that they do this because it would instill a sense of pride. >> there was no mean feat to get this place established. within a city that was very much segregated. >> my grandfather, robert taylor, when he finished m.i.t., became the architect and first teacher of architecture there in tuskegee. >> when we think about one architect being responsible to take a group of untrained craftsman and rally them together and he built our campus of over a thousand acres and 34 buildings. brian: back to the fact that they made their own bricks? aviva: that is exactly why i say it was so important when booker
t said to julius rosenwald, no, no, we are going to build it. they did everything from scratch. the historical building, the president's building, the most beautiful woodwork, everything. i'm from detroit originally. it's coming back. if you go to detroit and you talk about these abandoned houses, if we have some philanthropists to give money to rebuild houses and give jobs, we could get a lot of immigrants, who are working undocumented, help them rebuild detroit and given papers. we will see detroit comeback faster. brian: what were the years -- aviva: by the way, washington carver had the formula, if i remember correctly. brian: what were the years that julius rosenwald lived and when he ran sears roebuck? aviva: at the
turn-of-the-century, he bought into sears. he continued on those years. brian: we talk about the ski gi, but it is another thing that the film ends with. i am the daughter of a holocaust survivor. i thought, this film ends to early. there is no way i am -- this film ends too early. there is no way i can get world war ii in there. the way they got the money to build the field at tuskegee, rosenwald went down and promoted the fact that african-american pilots was something they really
had to establish. and it was the rosenwald fund that gave the money. brian: let's talk about you for a moment. you live in washington, d.c. aviva: since 1973. brian: i have the four different documentaries you have done. people that are my age remember the goldbergs. they were a radio shirt -- radio show to start. aviva: it started in the 1930's. she went to write a commercial and then was offered a show. it was something that was so much about family and a very positive figure of the mother. but it had accents. think about it. back in the 1930's and 1940's, everybody had accents. brian: we have some video from "mrs. goldberg." >> say hello with all the letters of the alphabet. >> before martha, before opera, there was rachel berg, the
creator of "the goldbergs." >> it was a sitcom and she wrote it. >> you get on the first station and you get on the last station. don't forget, there are local stops in between. >> gertrude berg is the most famous in america that you have never heard of. >> she was dubbed the first lady of radio. >> one of the first people i know that write and act. which do you prefer? >> brian: act. how did you get justice ginsburg to talk about this? aviva: another heroine of mine. i said i loved the film. -- hank rupert said i love the film and i thought i got to second base. not only did i interview her.
i also have a little cap -- clip from her on yom kippur. i came here to go to law school. thanks to the d.c. bar and me not doing well, i flunked the bar and did very well in law school. the day i interviewed her, people said aviva finally made it to the supreme court. brian: you are the daughter of a holocaust survivor. aviva: my 501(c)(3) is made chcla. that is my mother's maiden name. oland. she had
blonde hair and green eyes. she looked very much like a non-jew. my grandfather was able to get her and two other young girls, jewish girls, false papers. they made their way to germany and worked in the postwar camp pretending they were not jewish. my mother said that she would say prayers. unfortunately, my grandparents, my acted not survive -- my aunt a successful is this man up in hartford. david chase. he is the one who gave me my first grant. when i did not pass the bar, i needed a reckoning of what i was going to do. and a lot of it has to do with
growing up the child of a holocaust survivor. also, my dad's mother had been murdered by the nazis. i decided i had to go make a film "jews fighting not seize." my father came from lithuania. he went to write a story about a brother and sister being reunited. my mother and michael. -- my mother and my uncle. i am technically the first american war baby in germany. there are survivors born earlier than me, but my dad was in the u.s. army. i was growing up being obsessed reading no 18, exodus, and frank. i think a lot of children survivors think what can i do to show what had happened.
i just wrote my distributor saying we have to do a big splash. i was just in berlin where they restored the film. what it did was not so much talk about who fell where, but the moral dilemmas of fighting. many say, if jews had guns. we were not a nation. we were subjugated very early. there was no access. as they say in the film, it was -- the ones that did survive. it is very important to other children of survivors. but documented when these partisans were still alive in the 1980's. it was our u.s. dollars that paid for it, our taxes.
brian: do you have brothers and sisters? aviva: i have one brother and three nieces. brian: here is a clip from the hank greenberg documentary. aviva: i did hank the day i heard he died in -- i heard he died september 4, 1986. the next day, i decided to do the film. i went to meet his daughter after this. [video clip] >> i can recall bigoted people in the stands saying, hey, you kike. you're not supposed to be able to play ball. you're just a kike. hank stood proud and tall. >> it's a constant thing. there is always some level in the stands yelling at me. i felt it was the spark to make me do better because i could
never fall asleep on the ball field. not only you were a bum but a jewish bum. brian: what was the reaction at that time? aviva: it was my most successful financially. my dad always talked about hank greenberg. i grew up in detroit. my dad is a big baseball fan. dad would talk about hank to my brother and i when young compare. -- on yom kippur. so when he died, i thought, i have to do this. -- for my dad. never even saw this movie. i teased that i should put on my grave "she made men cry." a lot of people came out very emotionally. one thing great about my film is
three generations, four generations can come. fans of hay greenberg, people who say that this is the golden age of they command this is what i used to listen. with rosenbaum -- with rosenwald, people say, listen, this is where i grew up in the apartment buildings in chicago. this is where my grandfather went to school. so i am very proud of that. what is interesting, when i do these films, there are always surprises. i did hank because of what he had done with baseball. but i didn't realize she had greeted jackie robinson. he was the one on posing -- the one opposing player. because he had been so unfairly treated. for rosenburg, actors had been blacklisted. not only unfairly taken off the shelf.
that is when -- that is the tv blacklist or you don't know. with rosenwald, you know about the schools, but i did not know about the fund. so even i go into it thinking it is one story and it morphs into an even greater story. i think these are the kind of role models we need today. i think part of my instincts are that my family was so devastated by fascism and death that we need to establish role models. i think it is really important to have positive stories. especially today's -- i am in the middle of writing an essay on how i think hollywood and blockbusters perpetuate too much glorifying violence and we need simpler, wonderful stories that really celebrate the human experience and more positive role models for kids.
especially with videogames and people only looking at their iphones in the ear things, are we still talking to each other? are we generating something positive that we can all pop -- all follow? it concerns me about today. brian: can people by those first three documentaries? aviva: yes. you can go to hankgreenbergfilm.org. you can go to molly goldberg film. board. -- mollygoldbergfilm.org. we have posters for all three films. not partisans. i did not make enough. we have aprons for molly goldberg. we now are making t-shirts for rosenwald it's say "rosenwald" on the front and, on the back, "history matters." one thing that people have come
up to me time and time again -- i had an older white woman come up to me and said i learn more about african american history watching this film than i ever did in school. i had an african-american professor come to me and said, you know, there are films about the civil rights era. there are films about slavery. but there are no films that span between that. and then a young jewish man came up to me in the first screening and said i know what i am going to do with my life now. i've been inspired. you can't can that you can't even make that up. it's so wonderful to hear those responses. brian: he never put his name on any of the schools? aviva: they started calling them the rosenwald schools. but he did not ask for that. history goes in circles. in schools, they had pictures of booker t. washington and abraham lincoln and julius rosenwald. and i have one of my interviewees who grew up in a
school that had burned down. one day he said to his teacher, i want that on the wall. and then they would teach about it. it was because the people who are building the schools in tandem with the fund and also the state, the school superintendent said, hey, we want pictures of this man. he is the one who made it possible. brian: in the film, you show where the schools were located. we are going to run a clip from that. those watching need to look closely for the little dots in the map. [video clip] ♪ >> julius rosenwald and booker t. washington combined, this
plan for building schools, they were engaging in a radical experiment. it's a wonder they were able to achieve it but achieve it they did. in the end, thousand plus schools were built all over the south and thousands of children get an education who otherwise would not have -- who otherwise would have none at all. to spend her blood and might for the principles that gave her birth and happiness in the piece which she has treasure. how did the civil war vets respond to this call for forms? one veteran of california actually into his political aseer in the 64th congress one of a little group of willful man. civil war vets in the 65th congress, especially the
as an amateur, he could be really tough. with richard berg, a woman breaking in and during the first sitcom, they forgotten, standing up to the blacklist -- my films contradicted the stereotypes. i grew up with this tall, strapping jewish man is a role model. for rosenwald, i'm very sensitive to the fact with talk that jews can be very stingy businessmen and this man was so generous. i guess all my films i am trying to accomplish a counter
stereotype to the images, the negativity. it also role models for everyone. brian: how would you find the funds for all of this? aviva: there is a line at the end of "streetcar named desire" when she says "i depend on the kindness of strangers." this film was basically nea. but since then, it is the 501(c)(3) foundation. some of the films, family members were very generous. for some, they were different philanthropists in their own right. and even five dollars contributions made the difference to make this film. i have to say, the 37 years i have been working, i think at least a third, if not a half, i did not even to myself. i always say, ok, i got to put in the film. i got to put in the film. now i can say that this legacy i was able to show -- i mean, i would have loved to have been a
good immigration lawyer like i was in law school. but i am showing examples for jewish history in european history, but for a broader history. it wasn't too long ago there was an article about you in "the washington post" about your house. you had inherited some money from your uncle and you bought this. tell us about the house. aviva: two things happened. first, my dad died when i was 30 and i inherited some money. he always drilled into me, besides his liberal believes, invest in some property. i bought one house and then moved into another neighborhood and made some money in that. and my house was in the 501(c)(3) so no one could kick me out of it for raising rent. after my mother passed away my uncle had bought them a big
house. i said it last night. [indiscernible] and very close to the avalon theater where i have been playing those two movies. i have a masters in urban planning. so i love antonio gaudi. i don't think i will still have time to make a film on him, but i decided to create a park while in my backyard. it is a lot of broken tile together by this one for guatemalan craftsman. i believe in color so when a designer landscaper helped me do a park-like in my house with great colors inside. my mother, through all the worst she went through, what she found
was that she could paid. she is a -- could paint. she is a wonderful abstract, impressionist painter. a lot of the paintings in the house, those were in my collection. i often host book parties or film parties i feel -- not only during the day, i have my foundation, the 501(c)(3) team in my house, but i also host a lot of gatherings. something i learned from my parents, but also -- i think soirees is how i learned -- you know, helping my mother and my late step-father when he was a professor. we heard about arts and culture and this is trying to follow the tradition. brian: i saw another article
about you in the u.s. copyright office, the fact that -- you can describe what happens when you need to go there. aviva: i have this great copyright lawyer who is an expert on copyright. the whole thing is to be able to find the listings. they need to organize better copyright. one thing that i always like to say wherever i speak, and i consider this speaking at the end of the last three films, they are dedicated to several things. we are being filmed right now. we should have two senators. the last two films have been
dedicated to the viability newspaper. i have a big pilot home. i have been traveling. let me tell you, those newspapers -- and i say, if you get online, you miss something. i don't know how you do it, brian. brian: i read newspapers. go to the making of a documentary. can you give us a figure of what it costs to put a documentary together? aviva: because i take so long, partisans to seven, hank 13, rosenwald 12, seven for molly. a lot of it is spinning my wheels raising money. so it is about a million. since my editors and i spend a lot of time weaving in -- i use a lot of feature footage. there are several surprises. i have scenes from "dr. medassets -- dr. quinn medicine woman."
i feel sometimes hollywood gets it right. i don't have much music, but i don't have deadlines. it's all about when the film is ready. oftentimes, it is tried to fund the footage. the further back you go, the harder it is to find the footage that fits in with what people are talking about. people have told me two things. one thing i believe, docs can be as entertaining as feature films. i hope that can be true of all of my films. and if they can make people laugh and cry, you will -- they will remember your movie.
brian: 125 documentaries were submitted for the oscars. aviva: 141. brian: the 15 chosen did not include "rosenwald." what are the politics of the documentary business? i read, in order to be considered, you had to be reviewed by "the new york times" or "the l.a. times." aviva: we had great reviews. hank, mali, in all of them, i hired them to take the books as far as they could. really, some of these docs that got it had hollywood studios behind them. and they would spend hundreds of thousands of dollars with television ads or adds to come see the movie. i just can't afford that. brian: why did the oscar group
put all of the focus on "the l.a. times" and "the new york times" for the films to be considered? aviva: i don't know. those are the two cities where most of the film makers live. a lot of us don't live there. but the studios and the producing entities are there. it's a whole story. i did send out a notice last week to people and said, ok, the film did not get shortlisted. i can't help but be disappointed. but to me other things i listed work for came out and said this is what the film and for me and mostly saying i never knew about him, it's so inspiring, that to me is an oscar. brian: what are the chances you get your money back from the theaters and from dvd sales and this kind of business? aviva: i can speak in terms of theaters. in each city, my 501(c)(3) had to pay for a publicist. a dcp for ads. brian: what's a dcp?
aviva: digital something something something. it's much smaller to ship. "hank" was shot on four reels of film. as well as the staff to get the word out. we try to do a lot of outreach especially in the african american, the jewish, the religious communities, the schools. so we lost money taking it around. but to me, it got reviewed and known all around the country. the second thing is, i can't speak for the dvd. i know a lot of universities wanted, schools. -- want it, schools. there are certain scenes that i did not put in the film. like julius rosenwald and the mayor of chicago prevented "birth of the nation" from being shown in chicago. it was an insidious film.
rosenwald was involved in the crime commission. capone was at that time. or louis prank when the pencil factory -- lynched over a murder of a young woman that lived -- that worked in his factory. the stories go on and on. so it will have more that. more fun stories about the film. brian: let's look at a little bit from your film. this is a little clip on his family. [film clip] >> essentially two sets of children. the first set were born when the family was still living a nice, comfortable middle-class existence. seven years later, marion and
william were born. by that time, the family had acquired enormous wealth. william and marion were brought up by governesses whom they almost universally detested. >> jesse has a very big heart. it wasn't that she wasn't warm. she just wasn't there. she was very swept up in the social and philanthropic responsibilities that she had. brian: what is your take on the family? aviva: we tried to be honest and say that oftentimes people become very successful, sometimes they are not as around and have time for their children. gussie was also involved with the suffragette movement, which i will have on the dvd. the grandchildren speaking from what they heard their parents say and that is partly what happened.
i will say that these same children that felt that their parents weren't around, one became -- cookie roberts talks about her. marian anderson was very involved in new orleans, in the black university dillard. she followed in her father's footsteps. william rosenwald in new york followed very much in his father's footsteps. he was involved in jewish causes. another daughter was the one that purchased half of -- a jacob lawrence collection. another daughter was involved in schools in chicago. if you go to the library of congress, you will see the great rare books he donated or the
national gallery with the greatest prints ever. -- greatest prints ever. [indiscernible] aviva: i am responsible for my subject up until he dies. i'm not responsible afterwards. brian: if you are able to know julius rosenwald, have dinner with him, talk with him, what would you talk about? if you were in the room, what would you say? and i hope you can get up for the session, while talk. -- sasha cromwell talk. she said why did you do it and thanks for doing it. i think i would say what kept you going?
what inspired you? i think the film answers it. but i learned so much. when we were showing the film at the avalon theater in washington, i learned elementary schools did not have enough storybooks. so i put a big box. i think i'm giving with an inspired conceit. i think that happens with a lot of people going in the movie or going out of the movie. brian: what's next? aviva: interesting you should say that. again, in the theme of jewish heroes, a spy knew seven languages but could not nail any of them. he had gone to yugoslavia. there is also a navajo activist
i knew during my two years in new mexico. i had cowritten a script. there is another one i don't want to talk about. there's a couple of script ideas and book ideas. it basically boils down to where i can get the money affront. -- upfront. i don't have another 12-15 years to keep journaling for money. i'm hoping one of these will get supported. and i'm working on my book ideas. brian: the rosenwald documentary will be available on dvd -- aviva: hopefully in the spring. it depends on how my fundraising goes. but you can go to rosenwald.org. . you canald film.org order a poster and t-shirts. mid-december, widow.
-- we hope. brian: and you also have the ciesa foundation. aviva: it means carpenter in polish. brian: correct way to pronounce your first name. aviva: aviva, which means spring in hebrew. when i was born in berlin, he wanted a boy. obviously, i was born a girl. my late grandmother had loved hebrew. i love having the name. brian: aviva kempner, thank you very much for joining us. aviva: thank you for having me. i am a big fan of c-span. even more so now. ♪
announcer: for a free transcript or to give us your comments about this program, visit us at qanda.org. programs are also available as podcasts. announcer: if you like this program, here are some others you might like. filmmakers robert gordon and morgan neville on their documentary "best of enemies," about the televised debates between william f buckley and gore vidal. murray kennedy on her film about the final days of the vietnam war. and the documentary "the square," which portrays events in the streets of egypt during the 2011 revolution.