The Lion of Judah (2012), a documentary written and directed by Matt Mindell, tells the story of Holocaust survivor Leo Zisman. Hoping that his horrific suffering can help the next generation better understand what happened, Zisman leads a group of young adults on a journey back to Poland and through humanity’s darkest period. Inspired by the strength of Leo, The Lion of Judah’s powerful message encourages viewers to remember the past and use it to change the world for the better.
During the film, the group retraces the tragic path Zisman was forced to travel, from the Warsaw Ghetto where he was separated from his family to the Stutthof concentration camp. From there he was sent to Auschwitz, where he survived the war. The group also visits Majdanek and other concentration camps throughout Poland.
Woven within the context of Leo’s tragedy, the film features trip participants who speak of their own search for answers and identity, including Eric Gorenstein, whose father was a concentration camp survivor. Young Poles are also asked their opinions of Jews and the Holocaust, some sadly unchanged from their parents and grandparents deep-rooted anti-Semitic feelings. As the film analyzes these viewpoints, it is discovered that the Holocaust is not really a thing of the past.
Mindell, the Executive Director of the Jewish Enrichment Center in Manhattan, was a producer of The Lion of Judah along with Joe Kavitski, who also served as a cinematographer on the trip. Kavitski, a non-Jew, was so moved by his experience that he has since taught middle school students in the United States about the Holocaust.
The Lion of Judah received an Award of Excellence at the 2012 Los Angeles Movie Awards in the feature length documentary category. It has also been selected as an official entry of the 2012 Film Festival of Colorado in the documentary category.
Written and Directed by MATT MINDELL
Produced by MATT MINDELL and JOE KAVITSKI
Cinematography JOE KAVITSKI and BEN DONNELLON
Original Music by MATT TURK
A JEC Production
Featuring LEO ZISMAN, ERIC GORENSTEIN, ADRIANA CELIS,
NOAH LEDERMAN, AGNES FURTAK
MATT MINDELL – Writer, Director, Producer
Matt Mindell is the writer, director and producer of The Lion of Judah (2012). Previously, he was Executive Director and Founder of the Jewish Enrichment Center (JEC) in Manhattan, where young adults come together to learn, socialize, and become inspired.
A graduate of the NYU Tisch School of the Arts with a major in acting and minor in film, Mindell previously starred in several commercials for major brands including Doritos, LA Gear and Clearasil. He also appeared on Saved by the Bell, and in several movies including Big and Change of Seasons with Eli Wallach.
After starring in The Survivor, a play based on a Jewish gang that fought the German army in the Warsaw Ghetto, he was inspired to learn more about his Jewish identity. He journeyed to Israel, where he fell in love with the land and its people. A few years later, he returned to New York as the Northeastern Director of Steven Spielberg’s Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, where he spearheaded the documentation of “Spiritual Bravery,” an oral history of the religious traditions upheld by Jews who were imprisoned in the concentration camps. It was this experience that led him to found the current Jewish Enrichment Center in 2000.
JOE KAVITSKI – Cinematographer, Producer
Joe Kavitski is a New York City filmmaker and artist interested in exploring dark and challenging subject matter and the therapeutic aspects of the arts.
A recipient of the Ithaca College Cinema and Photography Department Faculty Award, his film, Surrendering Serendipity: A Rock Opera, won 1st Place in the Comedy/Musical category at the 2006 Ole Muddy Film Festival and the Originality Award at the 2006 Pocono Mountains Film Festival. In 2010, he edited T-3-Z-A-Poppin’ II, which won 1st Prize at the National Creative Arts Competition.
Recent projects include The Lion of Judah, a 60-minute documentary about a Holocaust Survivor returning to concentration camps in Poland and Prague to tell his story to the next generation, and Krazdale, a comedic web series co-created with Ben Donnellon that follows the lives of two friends as they battle through the struggles of meeting women, living in New York City, and spontaneously traveling through time.
Joe is currently finishing production on his first feature-length film, Nightmarriage, an experimental narrative deconstructing the bonds of matrimony, and The Mural Project, a short documentary about residents of a nursing home living with Alzheimer’s disease who paint a mural in their recreation room.
For more information on Joe and his work, please visit joekavitski.com
BEN DONNELLON – Cinematographer
Ben is co-founder of The FilmShop; a non-profit organization composed of independent filmmakers and media producers dedicated to developing new, groundbreaking work through collaboration and collective development. The film collective has produced over 100 films and holds screenings two times a year.
Over the last couple of years, Ben has shot short documentaries in Israel, Morocco, Ukraine, Cuba, Mexico, and most recently Poland and Prague for Lion of Judah. He has directed six music videos and three short films. His current projects include writing and directing for the new web series, Krazdale, cinematography for a feature length experimental film, Nightmarriage, directed by Joe Kavitski, and production of his first feature film, Know Your Logic, currently in post-production.
MATT TURK – Original Music
Musical Renaissance man Matt Turk is a veteran performer who has engaged audiences around the world, both as a hard-rocking bandleader and an acoustic folk troubadour. He has shared the stage with Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, Norah Jones, the Dave Matthews Band, the Grateful Dead's Mickey Hart and Phil Lesh, Hot Tuna, Richie Havens, Fiona Apple, The Doobie Brothers, Ellis Marsalis, NRBQ, and many more.
He has performed and toured throughout the U.S, Israel, Europe, Latin America, and the Caribbean, and appeared at scores of prestigious festivals and venues, including Clearwater's Hudson River Revival, the Gathering of the Vibes, the Berkshire Mountain Music Festival, Atlanta's Music Midtown, The Beacon Theater and Tarrytown Music Hall. In 2011, he showcased at the Folk Alliance International conference in Memphis, TN.
Matt's latest record, American Preservation, which hit Number #20 on the folk/dj charts, is a collection of traditional standards and well-loved classics, ranging from Roy Acuff to Pink Floyd, and from Taj Mahal to T. Rex. Matt's version of "America the Beautiful" has been called "arguably the definitive acoustic version" by Music News Nashville.
Turk has also lent his considerable musical chops to movie soundtracks. His cover of the seasonal classic "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" appeared on the soundtrack to the 2007 Warner Bros. film "Fred Claus." Turk provided lead vocals, mandolin, lap steel and acoustic guitar on the track. In 2006, his original song "Bette Says" appeared on the CBS television show "Love Monkey". He has also recorded music for the History Channel and other television, cable and Internet stations.
LEO ZISMAN – The Lion of Judah
Leibel “Leo” Zisman is the main subject of The Lion of Judah (2012), a new documentary written and directed by Matt Mindell. In the film, Zisman leads a group of young adults back to Poland and Auschwitz, where he suffered through humanity’s darkest period. Through this journey, he hopes to help the next generation better understand the incomprehensible, and turn their knowledge into action that can help end genocide forever.
Zisman is also the author of I Believe, The Story of One Jewish Life (2011). The autobiography tells the story of his long journey from Kovno, Lithuania, where as a young boy he was uprooted by the Nazis and forced to move to the Warsaw Ghetto. Zisman was then separated from his family and sent to the Stutthof concentration camp in Poland, and from there to Auschwitz where he survived the war.
After being liberated, he made his way to the United States, where he soon prospered. He spent the majority of his professional life running Elzee Construction in Brooklyn, and became a well-known builder and developer throughout New York City.
Leo has received rabbinic ordination from the United Lubavitch Yeshiva, and has degrees in mathematics, architecture and engineering. He was also a professor of math at the CUNY School of Engineering.
In 2005, he returned to Auschwitz to speak in front of thousands of young adults at the 60th commemoration of the camp’s liberation. He continues to spend the majority of his time telling his tale of suffering and tremendous perseverance to younger generations, through speaking engagements as well as education trips for Holocaust and genocide awareness.