Not a silent movie
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Not a silent movie

Local filmmaker's labor of love set to open

Marla Cohen is a freelance writer. She lives in Rockland County.

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Joe Allen, left, interviewed local leader Paul Adler for “20 Million Minutes.”

For two years, Joe Allen was privy to the unfolding story of how one small organization dreamed it could make a difference in the world – and did.

His film, “20 Million Minutes,” tells of the decision by JCC Rockland in 2010 to dedicate its 2012 JCC Maccabi Games to the 11 Israeli Olympians murdered by terrorists in Munich in 1972, and then pressing ahead with a campaign to obtain a minute of silence at the 2012 London Olympics in their memory. The movie premiers at 8:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 16 – a harbinger of the organization’s annual film festival in April.

The screening will take place at Rockland Community College’s Cultural Arts Center, 145 College Rd., Suffern. Tickets cost $18 and are available at www.jccrockland.org.

Allen, a senior vice president at Active International in Pearl River, recognized early in the JCC’s efforts that the story was begging to be told. Having made corporate videos, and co-authoring a biographical story for young adults set during the Shoah, Allen decided that film was the medium for this message. He began by interviewing local community leaders and politicians in Rockland County, capturing their recollections of what took place at the 1972 Olympics and their thoughts about the JCC’s efforts, which eventually resulted in an online petition that garnered more than 110,000 signatures and worldwide media attention.

“It was amazing to watch the people at the JCC go through the efforts to get the minute of silence,” said Allen, who has been sifting through hours of filmed interview footage. “I was privileged to be an observer to all the activities.”

Allen later traveled to Israel to interview surviving family members of the slain athletes and Israeli officials. In London, he accompanied JCC leaders when they met with International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge, who again refused to accommodate the request for a minute of silence commemoration at the London opening.

Now Allen, who interviewed 45 people in 55 separate interviews, is ready to screen his work for an audience.

“One thing I’ve learned is that I’ll never say never again,” said Allen. “I watched a small group of people who really had an ad hoc plan, go about this and with great diligence.”

In the weeks prior to the film’s premier, Allen is walking through storyboards, culling images and interviews and hunting for the right music. An “angel” event for potential backers, held in early February, helped raise completion funds for the film.

Ankie Spitzer, whose husband, Andrei, was among the 11 murdered athletes, has been seeking an appropriate commemoration for the slain team members since shortly after the gruesome events in Munich. Spitzer wholly endorsed the JCC’s project from the start, and participated in interviews with Allen. She was on hand in London, and along with JCC CEO David Kirschtel, past JCC President Steve Gold, and Micki Leader, a member of the JCC’s board of directors, met with Rogge in a last-ditch effort.

“Whatever he [Allen] makes, it is from the heart. I am sure I will like what he does,” said Spitzer, who is no stranger to documentaries on the subject, having participated in the Academy Award-winning “One Day in September” 14 years ago.

Participating in “20 Million Minutes,” however, was a very different experience, she said, having taken place within the framework of a growing friendship with the participants.

“I did not feel that I had to talk about the facts and explain,” said Spitzer, a foreign correspondent for Dutch television, from assignment in Ramallah, in the west bank. “I could say what was in my heart….I knew that Joe was genuinely interested and I was honored to be a part of this story.”

As someone interviewed for the film, local attorney and former JCC President Barry Kantrowitz, is intrigued to see the end result. Having never quite imagined that the JCC’s efforts on behalf of the Munich 11 would get so far, he is glad that there is a filmed record of what happened.

“The fact that our little community got something of this magnitude done and we have it preserved in a documentary is a great feeling,” said Kantrowitz. “So many things that happen are fleeting moments and then they are gone. You get folklore stories about what took place, but we have a documentary.”

Allen will donate the film to the JCC at the premier. He, along with Spitzer and those involved in the minute of silence effort, would like it to be shown at film festivals and used as an educational tool for other JCCs, schools, and organizations.

He is already looking ahead to his next project. As president of People to People, Rockland County’s largest food pantry, Allen wants to do a documentary film project related to hunger in the suburbs.

As for “20 Million Minutes,” saying “It’s a wrap” will be bittersweet.

“I just loved every minute of this project,” he said. “I’m sorry we’re getting to the conclusion.”

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