Silver Spring girl's short film draws big praise
Fifteen-year-old's documentary to screen at international festival in Cannes
Michele Pinczuk, a self-described pop culture addict, idolizes silver-screen heavyweights like Quentin Tarantino and Robert De Niro. Later this month, the Silver Spring teen will have the chance to meet some of her idols at the Cannes International Film Festival in France.
Pinczuk, 15, was shocked and delighted last month to learn that her short film, "L'Chaim Israel" will be included in the lineup of the Short Film Corner at the prestigious Cannes festival which runs from May 13 to May 24. The film has already won awards at Jewish film festivals in the United States.
"I'm beyond psyched. Ever since I was very little I've loved Hollywood, I've loved flashing lights, I've loved the whole scenario of film festivals," she said. "I'm like, high-on-Starbucks excited!"
Pinczuk, who suffers from a rare form of gastrointestinal disease related to allergy-combating white blood cells, will be flown to France with her family May 18 by the Make-A-Wish Foundation of the Mid-Atlantic Inc., which will also cover the family's travel expenses and a trip to Monte Carlo. For Pinczuk, the trip is a dream come true.
"It was just this overwhelming feeling of joy and accomplishment," she said. "I was like, I'm going to post this on my facebook!'"
The film, a brief but meaningful piece at four minutes long, celebrates the 60th anniversary of the foundation of Israel by asking a group of local Holocaust survivors, including Pinczuk's grandfather, what they would like to give the independent Jewish state for its birthday.
"Each one has this amazing, unique story to them. … Not only are they Holocaust survivors, they are truly amazing people," Pinczuk said. "Like my [grandfather], he grew up in Poland and half his family is gone and I just feel so grateful that he was in my life. … He was not only a great-granddad, he was also an amazing friend."
Half of the Holocaust survivors Pinczuk interviewed in the documentary last year have since died, including Pinczuk's grandfather. One of her goals in the film was to increase the community's awareness of the important life stories of Holocaust survivors, before their generation dies off.
"Their time on earth is so short," said Jane Pinczuk, Michele's mother, of the decision to begin submitting the film to local festivals. "I never realized how profound it was until after she made the film and so many of them passed away."
The short has since been screened at three festivals, including the 2009 Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival, where it won a new filmmaker's award in March and the Washington, D.C., Jewish Film Festival, where it won the student film contest in 2008.
"We thought that it was outstanding," said Susan Barocas, the director of the Washington, D.C., festival. "It was very personal. … She brought a certain maturity that you wouldn't expect from a 15-year-old."
The family reached out to Make-A-Wish in January 2008 shortly after completing the film, according to Wish Coordinator Jennifer Leitzel, who said the wish is a unique and exciting request.
"I've been doing a little bit of research on the festival to put into their itinerary [and I think] it's just so amazing that her film was accepted into the festival," Leitzel said. "It's so exciting to be a part of that … to help make it happen."
Pinczuk has already completed most of the filming for her second documentary, "Freedom," which explores teenage points of view on the meaning of the word and its importance. Pinczuk has also been published in the New York Times and writes regularly for JVibe, a Jewish youth magazine.
She is currently working on a book called "The Unknown" about a young girl named Diamond who lives in New York and struggles with the uncertainty of living with a life-threatening illness while still trying to enjoy life.
"I try to look at the beauty of life, that's what's important," she said of the creative motivation behind her films and writings. "One of my goals in life is to try to make a difference in children's lives, especially children with illnesses."