Michael Kleiman and Michael Pertnoy co-directed The Last Survivor. To find a screening of the film near you or to host a screening of your own, visit the website for more information.
As documentary filmmakers, we have dedicated our lives to the power of stories. Stories are an incredible exercise of our imaginations that allow us to see the world from the perspective of another human being. And, no matter how brief the story itself, when told well, our understanding of the world is forever altered.
For Jacqueline Murekatete, a 26-year old survivor of the 1994 Tutsi Genocide in Rwanda, life as an activist began with a story. She was 16-years old when David Gewirtzman visited her high school class and shared his own story of survival. Having survived the Holocaust, Gewirtzman’s story reminded Jacqueline all too much of her own. The connection was enough to compel Jacqueline to write Gewirtzman a letter thanking him for speaking to her class, sharing with him the horrific experiences she had survived when genocide plagued her own country, and announcing to him her new-found determination to share her stories with others. She had recognized the power stories have to motivate others to act out against injustice. David and Jacqueline have been speaking together ever since.
For Justin Kimenyerwa, stories are a form of therapy that allow him to find some shred of meaning in the horrors he and his people have been made to suffer. A survivor of the ongoing conflict in Congo, Justin has not seen his parents or his siblings since his small village was attacked in the middle of the night in 1996. He does not know of their whereabouts. Having spent 12 years living as a refugee, wondering from Congo, through Rwanda and Burundi and then to Nairobi where he was at last resettled to St. Louis, Justin is able to find peace in his ability to share his life’s narrative. “I try to tell people the story, to get rid of the painful emotions,” he says. In his telling, Justin’s story is one of hope: “What I have learned in my life, is that everything happens for a purpose.” The horrors he has suffered have brought Justin to the U.S. where he has found his life’s mission: to educate others about his people and their experiences so that we might at last envision a world where everyone is treated with humanity.
For Hédi Fried, an 86-year old survivor of Auschwitz and Bergen Belson, a story is a time machine – allowing her to reach into future generations and tell them of her life so that they might learn its lessons even when she is no longer here. It is for that reason that she joined Stockholm’s Storytelling Project – an innovative program that pairs Holocaust Survivors with young storytellers. The storytellers spend weeks getting to know a specific story of the Survivor’s life during the Holocaust, making it their own and taking on the grave responsibility to share it with future generations.
In telling the stories of these three remarkable individuals along with that of Adam Bashar – a 20-year old survivor of the ongoing genocide in Darfur – in our documentary film, The Last Survivor, our goal is to create a single narrative. One that allows us to understand that genocide is not a nightmare that happens “over there” or “way back then,” but something that remains with us today and is happening all over the world. In viewing this narrative in its entirety, our hope is that viewers will see the world through Justin’s eyes and Jaqcueline’s eyes and Hédi’s eyes and Adam’s eyes. The view, we believe, is very similar: a world in which we still focus too often on the minute differences that distinguish us rather than the great commonalities we share. And yet a world that is at once, full of hope – for the power of change rests within each of us.
Such is the power of a story.