Robin Truesdale & Judy Kreith
As part of our East Europe International Film Festival 2020 we are delighted to be connecting with a number of new creative filmmakers. Joining us in The Green Room today is a directing duo- Robin Truesdale & Judy Kreith. Thank you so much for joining us.
Firstly a huge congratulations on your wonderful Documentary: ‘Cuba’s Forgotten Jewels: A Haven in Havana’ My first question is to Judy, your mother Marion was the inspiration behind this project. Tell me more about your initial conversations with her and how you processed the story for the first time?
Thank you so much for having us in the Green Room Discussion. My first
conversations with my mother about her refugee experience began when I was a
teenager. At that time, I was beginning to have a greater comprehension of the
enormous horror of the Holocaust, and was reading all I could about it. Both my parents
escaped, my father from Austria, my mother from Germany. When my mother shared
stories, often they began with her experiences in Cuba working in the diamond industry.
She always said this was a “win-win” situation for Jewish refugees and Cubans. It was
later that she began to tell me more about her near escape from Nazi-Occupied Europe.
I often felt the loneliness and fear she expressed of being Jewish in Europe at this time
When it came to writing the film was this an easy process given your close connection or did you have to adapt your approach in any way?
In 2014, after years of research, I wrote a memoir of my mother’s experiences. I also
wanted to have videos for our family archives telling about her experiences as a young
girl. This is how Robin and I met. She was the videographer as we began to record my
mom’s story. When we realized what an amazing tale this was, we wanted to capture
the stories of other refugees while they were still alive to share their first-hand accounts.
As we added in these precious stories of others, the project grew in a most exciting
way. Robin and I did want to keep the storyline focused on the escape to Cuba and the
experiences our characters had there. We feel this has kept the storyline clear and
moving forward towards the films’ conclusion when our characters left Cuba, to begin a
new chapter in their lives in a new country, in this case the United States.
Tell me more about your ongoing research, you connected with Cuban historians, was there anything new that you uncovered in addition to what your mother Marion had told you that shocked or impacted you?
Connecting with Cuban historians was a most rewarding part of researching the
story. Their appreciation and generosity was touching. It was a surprise to know how
little is known in modern-day Cuba about the WWll refugee-created diamond polishing
industry in Havana. The historians did share with me some wonderful written resources
from international scholars about the broader history of Jews immigrating and living in
Cuba. When Robin and I traveled there together, she too was surprised how little was
known about the wartime story of Cubans and Jews working side by side to create the
life-sustaining but short-lived diamond polishing industry. We had the honor of
screening at the Havana International Film Festival in 2017, and the director of the
festival expressed her appreciation for bringing this story back to Havana through the
By profession you are a dance educator and choreographer, was it this story that took you into the world of independent film?
Yes, this story was my gateway into the world of independent film. I so appreciate
that Robin joined me with her years of filmmaking expertise and her wonderful artistic
sensibility and we took the journey together to create this film. My first trip to Cuba was
to study Afro-Cuban music and dance. My parents accompanied me on this most
memorable adventure. From the year 2000, I have traveled to Cuba, sometimes twice a
year, to continue my studies in the beautiful Folkloric and Popular dances of Cuba. In
2009, I realized that if I wanted to tell this story and interview others with a similar
history as my mother’s, I needed to do it while refugees were still alive to share their
first-hand accounts. At this time my journeys to Cuba changed focus as I interspersed
hours of research about WWll Jewish refugees in Havana with my dance training
schedules. When Robin joined me in Havana in 2015, we both agreed that including the
essence of the music and dance of Cuba was an essential part of telling this story.
Therefore, the music and rhythm of Cuba and Jewish melodies are integral and woven
into the film’s soundtrack, which is so special to us! The rhythm and lighter side of
Havana is side by side with the heartaches of the refugees as they think of the family
members who were left behind in Europe.
Robin, you are the Co-Director, Cinematographer and Editor of the film. How did your involvement begin with the project?
I was originally hired by Judy to film a series of interviews with her mother Marion in
the family home for their personal archives. Judy knew I was a documentary filmmaker
and several months later, she called and asked if I was interested in creating a film
around these stories. I was just finishing several years of work on another doc and I
wasn’t really looking for a new project, but it was such an inviting opportunity, I couldn’t
say no! I had never heard this history before and I found it really compelling. So, Judy
and I took the leap – it was more like a cliff dive! – and started working on the film
together almost immediately.
When you began to understand the story of Marion and the other refugees did you find yourself connected to the story in a deeper way?
Well, I’m not Jewish and I didn’t have a lot of knowledge and understanding about
WWII and the Holocaust, so this was all new and very impactful information for me. It
was a very personal experience getting to know Marion and the others, and to learn
about their experiences. It went way beyond interviews – we created relationships.
My connection to the story became one of awe, admiration, and the deep feeling of
being incredibly fortunate as a filmmaker to work with these amazing people and their
stories. It has very much expanded my understanding of Jewish, Cuban, and European
You have previously been involved with other projects such as ‘A Beautiful Equation’, Your experience is in documentaries. Did you approach this one any differently to others?
Not really. Each one of my docs begins with real people as the communicators for a
larger, universal story. In “A Beautiful Equation”, the personal stories of two famous
physicists (Einstein and Bohr) beautifully reflect their humanitarian philosophies. In our
film “Cuba’s Forgotten Jewels”, the Jewish refugees live through times of horror, but
they also realize that there is goodness in people after they find a safe haven in Cuba.
One of my documentaries is about Catholic nuns who sacrifice their freedom to help
end nuclear war, and another one is about a young Zimbabwean man who works to
bring equality to African women. In all of these, the common theme is that people need
to love and care for one another. I don’t think I ever intentionally made that my
storytelling goal, but in hindsight, it’s there every time. Somehow, the importance of
human kindness comes through in each film. Admittedly, I’m a bit of an idealist, and I
also think that hope is important – more now than ever.
BOTH- Documentary films really allow you to explore such wonderful narratives and tell stories that might often go unheard. With that said do you think you could ever see ‘CFJ’ reproduced as a narrative feature film?
(J) Although Cuba’s Forgotten Jewels is a very personal documentary, it always felt that
aspects of the story would be ideal for a narrative feature film; the moment by moment
uncertainty and fear of fleeing the Nazis, the beauty and mystery of Cuba, diamonds,
romance, the positive elements of two groups working side by side together for a
positive outcome. All these would be amazing material for a feature film. An actor/
producer once asked about making CJF into a live theatrical production, which we found
to be a most intriguing idea.
(R) I would love that! The story is dramatic and full of tension, struggle, joy, and more.
With the right screenplay and cinematic artistry, I think it could be a fantastic film full of
color and emotion. And it tells a story about both the Holocaust and Cuba that is
different from all others that have, so far, been represented in narrative film.
BOTH- You both possess a hunger and passion to tell stories with a strong social focus. Do you go looking for the stories you want to tell or is it a case of letting them find you?
(J) With this story, I felt that it found me. As we both know, the film project was a huge
undertaking but it was also deeply rewarding and gratifying to complete and share our
film in the U.S. and Internationally as with the Eastern Europe International Film
(R) The stories always seem to find me. I sometimes think I have a sign on my forehead
that says “Filmmaker – will work for food!” (ha ha) But for me, I feed off a great story.
There are millions of them out there because people are amazing.
BOTH- 2020 has certainly been a crazy year, what has been your focus during this time. Have you been able to keep creative?
(J) Yes, it has been a most unusual year. One positive aspect of meeting on Zoom has
been that my mother, Marion has been able to join Robin and me for some wonderful
and engaging online Q&A film discussions. We have also been able to screen the film
virtually as we are doing with you all. It is reassuring to know that films can be screened
and discussed online. Although we miss meeting all together in person, we have been
able to include audiences from many parts of the world through the online format. I have
also been able to continue teaching dance on Zoom, and this has contributed to my
(R) I’ve been working in my basement editing office and staying in touch with friends
and the world through Zoom. I’ve also been getting out for long walks as often as I can.
I was supposed to be trekking across Europe this fall, so I’m trying to stay in shape for
when travel opens back up and I can be on my way! Walking always supports my
BOTH- This is a question that I ask most guests in The Green Room. If budget wasn’t a problem what would be the next film you made? Give me a title and tagline?
(R) “Our Feet Have Wings” – a documentary film
What happens when we step out of our daily routine and just…walk? Call it a
pilgrimage, a walkabout, or a journey of self-discovery. Paths exist around the world
that beckon walkers to tread through forests, desserts, cities, and different cultures.
Come along with a few plucky ramblers who share their long distance walking
experiences and show how the simplicity of letting our feet connect with the ground can
also give us wings.
(J) What a lovely concept. I’m still in the imagining phase on this question!
BOTH- Finally, what can we expect from you next?
(J) Something uplifting, full of music and dance to lift our spirits during these times!
(R) I have high hopes for 2021 to be a year when we can gather in theaters and enjoy
cinema together again! I’ll continue to work on promoting my latest documentary,
“Sweet Home Monteverde” and will head out to walk on a long journey as soon as I can!