September 23, 2019

The Ashes of Memory

How do you go from co-starring on a popular sitcomto directing a documentary at Auschwitz? Just ask MichaelO’Keefe.

The actor, best known for his role as Fred on”Roseanne,” was approached by his teacher, Bernie Glassman of the ZenPeacemaker Order, to attend a meditation conference held on the siteof the former concentration camp. O’Keefe is also an ordained priestof the Order. Glassman and Rabbi Zalman Schacter of the JewishRenewal movement organized the event in order to transform the deathcamp into a place of interfaith spiritual healing.

In “Raising the Ashes,” O’Keefe has crafted a filmabout healing and rebirth unlike any other. His cameras follow the150 participants — who are from a variety of backgrounds,nationalities and religions — during the week-long retreat as theytry to understand the crimes that took place there, and come to termswith the perpetrators and those who stood by.

As Glassman explains in the film, “The word’remember’ means ‘to make whole again.'” To accomplish this, Glassmaninvited children of survivors, as well as descendants of the Naziswho have come to seek forgiveness and spiritual purpose. They sharetheir experiences and join in the various religious ceremonies: aJewish prayer circle where psalms and the “Kaddish” are recited, Zenchanting, and Christian and Islamic observances.

Many people have been “deeply offended” by hisfilm, O’Keefe told an audience at the Santa Barbara InternationalFilm Festival earlier this month. However, many others have beenequally moved by the powerful imagery and personal experiences: aGerman man who grew up hearing conflicting stories of his partlyJewish ancestry; a Swiss nun who expresses her initial reservationsabout attending, before singing Yiddish children’s songs she haslearned; the poetry of a survivor known only by the number he wasbranded with during his imprisonment — Ka-Tzetnik 135633.

Other Documentaries of Note

The International Documentary Association willscreen this year’s Academy Award-nominated nonfiction films onSunday, March 22, the eve of the ceremony. Features “Ayn Rand: ASense of Life,” “Colors Straight Up,” Spike Lee’s “4 Little Girls,””The Long Way Home” and “Waco: The Rules of Engagement” will bepresented as well as three of the five nominated short subjects.”Waco” will get things started at 10 a.m., and the last screening isscheduled for 10 p.m. Numerous question-and-answer sessions areincluded.

At the Directors Guild of America, 7920 SunsetBlvd. Tickets may be purchased through Ticketmasteroutlets.