April 18, 2024
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Greenhorn, a New Film from a Fair Lawn Resident

New York—“We will never understand,” commented Matt Oliva, one of the lead child actors on the set last Thursday afternoon of the just wrapped short film Greenhorn, adapted from a powerful children’s book by Fairlawn resident Anna Olswanger.

Based on a true story, Greenhorn, is a multi-dimensional emotional odyssey also co-produced by Olswanger. In both book and film the characters journey through a wide range of human emotions transcending history, culture or religion.

“It’s a human story of horror, encompassing difficulties ranging from bullying and stuttering to the challenges of friendships,” said Tom Whitus, a film director since 1997. Whitus adapted the screenplay and directed the short, and while he is not Jewish, he indeed recognized the value of telling this story.

“Things like this could just become a footnote in history. It was important to me, and for me, to tell the story of such triumph in the face of such tragedy. For instance, it would have been easy [for Rabbi Grossman’s character] to fade into the background because if you are being bullied and someone else comes along weaker than you, it is almost irresistible to allow them take the heat. Yet what we see unfold in this story is nothing short of incredible courage,” Whitus said proudly.

Based on unforgettable tragedy and now immortalized in film, Greenhorn, the book, also received recognition as a part of National Stuttering Awareness Week, May 12-18, from the Stuttering Foundation (www.StutteringHelp.org). In addition to Olswanger, celebrated at the event were three other authors, whose recent books are widely acclaimed by both critics and readers alike. Honored for their creative inspirational works, the reception took place in New York at The Lotus Club, a gathering place for writers, journalists, and critics since 1870. Foundation President Jane Fraser noted, “Authors with the courage to share their stories and inspire others hold a special place in the hearts of the 70 million people worldwide who struggle to speak.”

Ironically, even though the protagonist and narrator of this story stutters, he becomes the articulate one,” said Olswanger.

A literary agent with Liza Dawson Associates in New York, Olswanger grew up in Memphis where she first heard the story of Greenhorn from Rabbi Rafael Grossman. Grossman, the former rabbi of the West Side Institutional Synagogue in Manhattan and the Senior Rabbi Emeritus of Baron Hirsch Congregation in Memphis, was also past president of the Beth Din of America and the RCA. He remembers his yeshiva days and the intrusion of the harsh mind-bending realities of Hilter’s war machine and the affects it had on the lives of children. “Kid’s in 1946 couldn’t comprehend the enormity of this tragedy,” Rabbi Grossman told JLBC.

This is a deeply moving Holocaust story, as well as the story of a pivotal moment in the life of young Rafael, who grew up to become a great halachic voice of Jewish Americans.

Grossman, who lives in Englewood, spoke with JLBC and emotionally recalled the difficulties of his first-hand experience. “We became pals; I used to bring him home. My father would kiss me sometimes, but Daniel? Oh, how my father would kiss him. And my mother, she would open her arms wide and hug him over and over, all the time. Just speaking about it now, after all these years, brings me…makes me feel a deep sense of sadness. We have no idea the magnitude of the suffering; it was so horrific,” said Rabbi Grossman.

The small ensemble cast, mostly of child actors, is quite a collection of inspiring new talent. Giorgio Poma of Italian and American Jewish parents, played one of two leading roles in this film, and is an accomplished cellist. He is set to record his own composition for the film score, all the while studying for his upcoming bar mitzvah in July.

Greenhorn is slated to be screened in late 2014 at various film festivals around the country, including Jewish Film Festivals. It is also on track for New York showings this winter. The film is co-produced by Ree Howell, who is affiliated with the Los Angeles film company Believe Entertainment for the last 17 years. The company’s most recent productions include, The Insatiables, What If…, Finding Normal, and the soon-to-be released, God Is Not Dead.

In keeping with criteria for Academy Award consideration, the yet to be edited film is already scheduled for a late August 2014 screening at The Nuart Theatre on Santa Monica Blvd. in Los Angeles. “This film will be finished one way or another with or without the additional financing; it is too important to not complete. The only remaining question is will it be the easy way or the hard way?” Whitius said with determination.

Although the actual production phase has been completed, there are still investment opportunities, go to Greenhornfilm.com to learn more.

By Elyse Hansford

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