Tovarisch, I Am Not Dead.
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Saturday, 8 December 2007


Stuart & Yehuda Efroni at Tel Aviv Cinematheque

To Jerusalem for the film’s premiere in Israel and my wife Dana’s 50th birthday party, with close family in attendance. A heady mixture in the Holy City! It turns out to be one of the best and rewarding weeks I can ever remember, including a couple of days off at the Dead Sea and a standing room only showing of the film at the Tel-Aviv Cinematheque attended by 450 people. What matters most to me is that my uncle Menachem is with us, 81 and still playing tennis, 60 years after being gravely wounded defending a besieged enclave in Jerusalem.

Upon arriving in Israel, we are whisked through formalities by a culture ministry official and greeted also by a major article in The Jerusalem Post

Actors Topol and Yehuda Efroni help celebrate the film at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque with great pzazz, as they both knew Garri. Topol lights the candles for the hannukah festival on stage and sings in his famous voice, then making a speech before the film. My cousin Chasia also gives invaluable support in assuring this amazing turnout and catering.

Topol before the show with me

What makes touring with this film so special is the following event: an elderly but sprightly man comes out of the crowd. Zvi Halpern, an artist and veteran kibbutznik, explains that as a boy he escaped on the last day of the liquidation of the ghetto in the town that he and my father came from. Joining the partisans, he survived the war, and just like my uncle Menachem from the same town, got to Palestine and joined the Palmach (Jewish special forces).

Stuart & Menachem

Thursday, 29 November 2007


At the British Independent Film Awards

My how the event has grown. What used to be an upstart to the Baftas in the manner of the Independent Spirit Awards bearding the Oscars, the Bifas now constitute a very glitzy night out for celeb-spotters and freeloaders. The bash at the London Roundhouse was very well staged and even the food was good.

As Daniel Craig’s citation for the Variety Award played in speech and on the big screens, it was heart-warming to see the young man I had cast when directing the BBC’s Our Friends In The North scale the heights.

We were up for the Raindance Award, which is given to a film that played to a sellout screening at the Raindance festival and which had been against all the odds on a low budget. We lost to The Inheritance, made by a guy scarcely out of his teens who reminded me of myself 30 years ago, turning out a film on a sixpence with bags of chutzpah.

Well, after some years in awards wilderness it was good to be back at the table!

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Warsaw International Jewish Film Festival November 2007

Warsaw - November 2007

Did you hear the one about the East European capital with scarcely any Jews, but two rival Jewish film festivals? That would be Warsaw.

Both invited my film on an exclusive basis, offering travel, hospitality for me and a guest etc.

By the time my wife and I arrive at the A festival, it has been all but crushed by budget cuts forced through litigation with the B Festival. The former B festival seems to have walked off with the state funding. Our host event now seems to be diving to Z status as our “hotel invitation” reverts to a futon bed on the floor of a flat belong to the harassed fest director’s girlfriend, in the outskirts of Warsaw. The festival cannot even afford to ship 35mm prints, with the result that films are shown in awful quality off DVD. I feel very sorry for them. And for us: Z-land for a week, with vouchers just for a sandwich and a coffee a day. It’s grim out East. Leaving the closing night dinner to which we were all specifically invited, we are all asked to pay our (hefty) share.

But as the first winter snow comes down, something magic began to happen. I encounter the most amazing band of Polish people who are not Jewish but who are helping to keep alive the flame of Jewish culture all but extinguished by Nazism and Communism. See my newspaper article in the JC

Thursday, 1 November 2007

Raindance Film Festival (Best Documentary Nomination)

The UK Premiere of the film, on 1st October 2007, was a packed event at the Trocadero, presented, courtesy of Raindance, in High Definition format. Having been guilty of not paying attention to Britain’s largest indie event, I admire the low-budget ethos and enthusiasm with which it is run.

James Mullighan, Creative Director of Shooting People, conducts the Q&A with me which you can see in podcast form here – scroll down for various items on the film and its Raindance Q&A. Discovering the film for himself as we have neither distributor nor or publicist, James becomes one of the film’s champions, helping to put the word out on Shooting People via the above podcast page and other forums, and going on to provide valuable advice in how to release the film ourselves. Which we proceed to do!

More information

Thursday, 14 June 2007


I am very pleased to return from the 3rd Biografilm festival of Bologna, Italy, with the Lancia Award, awarded at the closing ceremony on June 10th.

(story continues below image...)

The Lancia Award is given to the director of the film which in, in the view of the festival, marks the most outstanding achievement in this festival dedicated to celebrating human lives.

Although Biografilm is a newish event on the festival calendar, it has given the Italian or European premieres to films such as Werner Herzog's Grizzly Man, Tarnation, KZ and works by Atom Egoyan, Paul Weitz, among others. There were 350 features entered, some of which had won awards at Tribeca, Amsterdam and other festivals.

There is something very emotional about receiving an award for such a personal topic, especially given the paradox that I could not really finish the film in the way I wanted while my father was alive, and therefore he could not be around to see this happen. I did feel that he was watching the award ceremony though, from somewhere.

Thanks so much to all those who helped so much in making the film and in supporting it!

Tuesday, 27 March 2007

He Escaped The Holocaust, Escaped the Gulag, And Managed to Live a Good Life. His Story is Captured in a New Documentary Film

A true and harrowing story, Tovarisch, I Am Not Dead is a valuable legacy of historical fact, available to all as both book and film. This site has been set up to provide information on this new independent documentary film based on the life of Garri S. Urban, an extraordinary man who experienced extreme hardships in the gulags of Stalin's Russia. He wrote in his own words from his own memories about his experiences in a vital, fascinating and enthralling book, which is almost impossible to put down. From the first invasion of the German forces into his homeland in 1939, the story follows Garri's courage in the face of adversity, torture, separation from his loved ones, imprisonment and finally, one of the most daring escapes ever to be documented.

His story illustrates the struggle against the oppression of Stalin's Soviet state at the height of its powers and the will to survive that is so often found in mankind, even at the very darkest times.

The film encapsulates the life of a remarkable man and provides an opportunity for the lessons he learnt to be shared. In addition to providing information about Garri Urban and the life he lived, we will in parallel be chronicling the journey of this documentary. Garri left a massive and important legacy that thanks to his own memoirs and his son's film, will never be forgotten. When he died in 2004, Garri's passing was noted by the world's media, a significant testament to the important role that he played in the lives of not only his loved ones, but also in the broader historical sense.

We would love your input, your views, your own family memories and experiences. You can help to develop the film. To say thank you we will provide you with the inside track on the film's development, pre-release clips, interviews, tickets and the chance to win some mementoes from the film.

Tuesday, 27 February 2007

What the Press Say About The Book and the Film

The proof of the pudding they say, is in the eating, and the critical response to the book since first publication has been very supportive. Here are just a few of the comments that Tovarisch, I Am Not Dead has received.

The Film

"Very powerful, very moving... an extremely strong piece of work" Geoffrey MacNab of The Guardian

"Touching, funny, emotional, covering many important issues" John Hopewell of Variety

"A film I shall never forget" John Daly, Producer of Platoon and The Last Emporer

The Book

"written with the narrative skill of a professional, this book became an international bestseller..." (The Times)

"a book of the 'can't put down kind' be treasured." (Variety)

"tragic, humorous...powerful, vivid, authentic." (The Jewish Chronicle)

"a most remarkable man, a most enthralling book!" (The Observer)

"eye-opening...remarkable. Despite the most dismal circumstances, he never portrays himself as a victim. ***** out of 5*s!" (R Chapulina, Amazon Top 500 Reviewer)

Monday, 12 February 2007


Although Pamplona is slightly better know for its running bulls than its cutting edge new documentary festival, I call upon everyone who loves animals to flock to the city for the film event and thereby save the lives of those frightened beasts who are sacrificed each summer (and the odd drunken tourist whom they gore now and then). Hopefully we can make the Pamplona film run the hot ticket event.

Dana and I had a lovely sojourn during this impeccably-managed event in the old city. I was touched, and should not have been surprised as a historian, by the fact that Spanish and Basque people take to the film because they know all too well the horrible legacy of totalitarian terror in the last century in their civil war and Franco’s repression. I guess this is why the film won the Audience Award (Premio del Publico)

This town has almost no Jewish population, but in another moving moment, two middle-aged Jewish brothers come over after the show. Their father only survived the war by an irony – a volunteer for the Republican forces from France, he was incarcerated by in a Spanish prison camp, thus surviving the war. Franco did not send Jews back to the Nazis, unlike the occupied French.

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