My mother, Mrs. Sally Simons, passed away on the fourth day of Sukkot 5768 – 29 September 2007 in her 100th year. Soon after she died I had the idea to make a film of her life, but as is usual with a lot of ideas, they get pushed aside. About three years later my cousin Vivien made a short film of her mother entitled “My Mum Ivy” and she put it on YouTube, where I viewed it. This gave me the impetus to immediately make a film of my mother’s life.
I had a starting advantage over Vivien. For my mother’s 90th birthday, the family had prepared an album “This is Your Life” and this contained numerous photographs taken throughout my mother’s life and most of the photographs in this album were then scanned on to my computer. Unlike with Vivien’s mother where she had no video material, with my mother, there were a number of videos in which my mother appeared. These videos included my daughters’ weddings, and the britot of two of my grandsons.
Vivien had strictly limited her film to her mother’s life and in almost every one of her almost 200 photographs in the film her mother appeared. In contrast I decided that my film would also include many photographs of my mother’s immediate family.
In addition to the album on my mother’s life, we had a lot of photographs in other albums in our apartment, and in addition, an enormous unsorted collection of photographs which were stored in a large cardboard box. I carefully went through all this material picking out the photographs I might need and scanned them. In fact when the film was finally made, my mother appeared in a minority of the photographs.
It is unfortunate that people often throw away photograph albums as they usually contain an irreplaceable family history. I can recollect when I was young, there were photograph albums in my house and in my grandmother’s house. But where are these albums now? However, there were some old photographs - one about 100 years old - of my grandmother which are still extant today for the following reason. When my eldest daughter was born, we named her after my grandmother and I asked the family for photographs of my grandmother and I received a whole collection, and these were incorporated into the film. Had I not requested them, they may well of gone the same way as the other “lost” photographs.
I also went through the photograph albums of my married children and of my brother looking for suitable photographs. I found a number which I scanned. Today one does not have to borrow photographs and take them to photo studio to have copies made. One just scans them!
When my mother came on Aliyah in 1978, she went to live in Petach Tiqva, the place where her uncle and family went in the 1920s. I asked them if they had old photographs of the family in Petach Tiqva and they scanned me a whole collection dating from the 1930s onwards. It also included some of the family playing in the snow in Petach Tiqva in 1950, something which has never been repeated there since that year!
I commented to people that there are probably more photographs of the last ten years of my mother’s life than of the first 90 years! For example there were no shortage of photographs of my mother with her great grandchildren and even though I incorporated about 30 of them, there were still others which I did not use. The great grandchildren would send their drawings to my mother and I managed to find several of them and they were included in the film.
There were also many documents connected to my mother’s life and that of her immediate family. These included certificates from Poland of her ancestors’ birth and marriage certificates, my parent’s ketuvah, their wedding menu, a certificate my mother received when she went on Aliyah, and news clippings of the recipes she had sent to a British Jewish newspaper in an honorary capacity.
In addition to the above mentioned material, I wanted to give some historical background by including some relevant landscape photographs of the appropriate bygone eras. Some of these I took from books, whilst others I found on the internet and these included scenes of London at the beginning of the 20th century. I found on the “Jewish Chronicle” website a photograph of the laying of the foundation stone of the Edgware Synagogue in 1934 and it was just 5 years later my parents moved to Edgware and davened in that shul. I felt it would be appropriate to incorporate that photograph in the film. I went to Jewish National Library where they have microfilms of the “Jewish Chronicle”, located that photograph and had a print made of it. The quality in the newspapers was not good and the technician had to play around for some time to obtain the best print. Incidentally, I sent a copy of this photograph to the Edgware Synagogue who were happy to receive it.
Some of the photographs showed groups of people, and for the film I wanted to point out a particular person or persons. To do this I electronically added arrows to the photographs.
For about the last decade of her life, my mother also appeared in a number of videos. Most of them were the weddings of three of her granddaughters at which, despite her age she danced magnificently and this was captured on the videos. Also two of these weddings corresponded to her birthdays – her 89th and her 92nd - and at these weddings she was made a presentation which was also videoed. She also attended the wedding of my niece just over half a year before she died, when she was already 98 and I was told that she even then danced magnificently, but unfortunately the person making the video refused to video women dancing and so we have no record of this. There were also videos made of her 95th birthday in our sukkah, of her attendance at her eldest great granddaughter’s 1st birthday party, and some very brief video shots of her at the britot of her two eldest great grandsons,
I went through all these wedding videos and marked the places where my mother was dancing, and also where she was given the birthday presentations. Likewise I marked the appropriate places in the videos of the other videoed events. The next job was to extract these clips. For this one needs a special video splitter program. I do not have one, but one can download from the internet such programs as a trial where one can do a very limited number of splittings. I downloaded a number of such programs and used each one for the number of splitting that were permitted and in this way I got all my video clips.
Now that I had all my photographs and video clips, I was able to write out the first version of the script for the film. Having done this, one could arrange the scanned photographs and video clips in the order one wanted them and they were numbered with a series of letters and numbers. I then made some revisions of the script to make a better fit with the visual material.
In any film one needs to have some suitable musical background and so that it should not conflict with the reading of the script, it generally speaking needs to be music without singing. On the internet I found some very suitable Breslov music. In particular I found it appropriate since my mother died on the same date that Rebbi Nachman of Breslov had died. I downloaded it - at least I thought I had! In fact all I had done was to make an internet link with the tune, namely when the internet was not on, one could not play the music! However, a program was found to transfer this music on to my computer. I then decided which tune was suitable for which part of the film. I also found other suitable tunes on the internet which I likewise downloaded. I also downloaded some additional tunes in case I would also need them, but in the end I did not have to use them.
I now had all the components for the film: the photographs, the video slips and the background music and the text of the script. All it now needed was for it to be put together. To do this one needs a suitable program and some experience with this program. Fortunately, one of my son-in-laws has this.
He does not work on Fridays, and on one such Friday we arranged to do this work. I had already transferred the photographs, video clips and background music to a DVD which I took to my son-in-law.
We began by transferring the photographs and video clips to his computer and then put them in the correct order. A few problems then surfaced. One was that the photographs got separated from the arrows, but my son-in-law soon found a method to restore them. We also found that the program could not read some of the video clips. This was with one of my daughter’s weddings and with the two britot. In the case of the wedding this problem was soon solved, but no solution was found with the two britot and they had to be left out the film.
We initially gave each photograph, (I think it was), a duration of four seconds on the screen. I said initially, because as the making of the film progressed the time for showing some of the photographs would be increased, whilst the time for others would be decreased.
The first photograph first showed a picture of my mother which then zoomed out to also show many of her descendants. On it was added the caption “Our Matriarch Sally”.
I affixed a microphone to my person and I then read into it a few lines at the time from the script. It would then be accurately co-ordinated with the photographs, by increasing or decreasing the time that each photograph was on the screen. There was one occasion where my wife read the script – it was a letter from a woman to the editor of a newspaper where my mother in an honorary basis gave recipes to this newspaper. My wife intentionally read it with a London accent!
The next stage was inserting the background music and other sounds. Here it is important to have the correct balance between the volume of the music and of the narration. The final stage is to insert different effects when there is a change over between some of the photographs. This draft copy is then copied to make the final copy.
On the whole this film which was of length 33 minutes turned out very nice indeed. However there are a few flaws which resulted from the fact that it was done on a Friday and there was insufficient time to do a “final polish”. For example, there are a few places where the balance between the narration and the music is not good and it is therefore difficult to hear the narration at theses points. There are also a few places where music could be added. and the music also lacks fade in and out. Should a new version ever be made these points could be corrected and also one could try and find a way to be able to incorporate video clips from the two britot.
After the film was made, I tried to put it on YouTube, but it was rejected since it was too long. The maximum length for a film on YouTube is 15 minutes. Therefore to put it on, it would be necessary to divide the film into three parts.
I decided to launch the film on my mother’s 4th Yahrzeit which is on 18 Tishrei which is during Chol Hamoed Sukkot, and I invited a number of people who knew my mother to dinner on that day and to then see the film. I had originally wanted to show the film in the sukkah, but that was not found to be technically feasible. So after eating dinner in the sukkah, the people went to my office, where I have a large screen for my computer and they all watched the film there.
I made a number of copies of the film on DVDs and sent them to relatives who had scanned for me photographs which they had in their possession. Those living in Israel managed to see the film on their computers. One of the copies I had sent to my cousin Vivien who lives in California and on receiving it she sent me an e-mail that she was unable to open it on her computer. I then telephoned her and she suggested that I try and split it into three parts and put it on YouTube, since she was very keen to see the film.
I downloaded a program to split videos but was unable to use it. I then downloaded a different program and this time I was successful in splitting the film into three parts. However, when I tried to upload it on to YouTube for some unknown reason I was unsuccessful with all the three parts. YouTube recommended that in such a case, one should try and use Google Chrome to upload it, and I therefore downloaded this program. However, meanwhile I saw that it was possible to upload films which were longer than 15 minutes long. To do this one sent one’s mobile phone number to YouTube and they would then send back by SMS a code number which one would then send them. This was to verify that I in fact was who I said I was! I then uploaded this film in its entirety to YouTube and this time the upload was successful.
The film can now be seen on YouTube either via goggle: Our Matriarch Sally – YouTube, or on the website: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rk05EbxI_0g or more simply by clicking on the words "to view" given below.
Film: OUR MATRIARCH SALLY