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The story of Moshe Rynecki’s art, and his great-granddaughter’s ongoing quest to find and understand his art legacy, lost during WWII.
The story of Moshe Rynecki’s art, and his great-granddaughter’s ongoing quest to find and understand his art legacy, lost during WWII.
The story of Moshe Rynecki’s art, and his great-granddaughter’s ongoing quest to find and understand his art legacy, lost during WWII.
173 backers pledged $22,102 to help bring this project to life.

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Chasing Portraits - A Feature Length Documentary Film

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The Chasing Portraits Story

[4/28/2015 NOTE: We are ecstatic to have reached our Kickstarter goal of $20,000! This amount, matched with the Claims Conference grant of $20,000, will allow us to finish filming this year. Please know that any additional funds raised will go to post-production expenses. Post-production is the actual editing of the raw footage to turn it into a movie. Post-production pays for the editor, original score, sound engineering, and a whole host of other super important components needed to make a film look and sound great. Thanks! -elizabeth]

My great-grandfather, Moshe Rynecki, was a Warsaw-based artist who painted scenes of the Polish Jewish community in the 1920s and 1930s. A prolific artist whose body of work included over 800 paintings and sculptures, he perished in the Holocaust. My father and his parents survived the Holocaust and when they returned to Warsaw they were able to find only a small portion of the original collection - about 120 paintings. Given the near total destruction Warsaw experienced in World War 2, for many years they assumed that these were the only surviving works. Fortunately, that turned out not to be true.

Today I know my great-grandfather's works are spread all over the world - New York, Los Angeles, Canada, Israel, and Poland. Certainly dozens and possibly hundreds of works survived. My project, Chasing Portraits, is about my great-grandfather's art and my quest over the last decade and more to find the lost paintings.

I've been able to do more research on the web every year as more databases, archives, libraries, and auction records become available online. I've also had tremendous success in making connections, finding information, and gaining access to individuals and institutions through the help of my followers on social media. But the best discoveries are those that have been surprises, like the time I got a phone call out of the blue from a man with a Polish - Canadian accent who said, "I think I have your great-grandfather's art in my home." 

I've worked intensely on this film for the last several years. I've filmed footage in the San Francisco Bay Area (CA), Portland (OR), Omaha (NE), and Toronto (Canada). In October 2014 I took a two week trip to Poland where I filmed with Emmy Award winning cinematographer Sławomir Grunberg and film production team member Catherine Greenblatt. To finish filming we will make trips to Israel, New York, Los Angeles, and a second visit to Warsaw. 

Behind the scenes photos - Poland 2014 (photos by C. Greenblatt)
Behind the scenes photos - Poland 2014 (photos by C. Greenblatt)

Until now I've relied upon the tremendous generosity of family, friends, and supporters I've met along the way to make the project happen. But with the growing expenses to travel and pay for film crews, the film needs help with additional funding. The exciting news is that the film has recently been awarded a $20,000 matching grant. Of course, since it is a matching grant, I need to come up with another $20,000 in order to both match the grant and have enough funds to finish filming.

Today the siren’s song of artwork forgotten in an attic, tucked away in a storage unit, or even proudly displayed in a family home continues to propel my search forward. Please help me reach my goal on this Kickstarter campaign so I can share my great-grandfather's art, the story of my search for all of his works that survived the war, and the story of the vanished culture his work portrays with the world.

These paintings were lost in World War II. Have you seen them? Photos Courtesy of the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto.
These paintings were lost in World War II. Have you seen them? Photos Courtesy of the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto.

Why Back a Documentary About Lost Art?

“If you destroy an entire generation of a people's culture it's as if they never existed. That's what Hitler wants and it's the one thing we can't allow,” says George Clooney's character in the recent feature film, The Monuments Men. As World War II and the Holocaust fade from living memory, we all need to work that much harder to help keep cultural memory and history alive. To preserve my great-grandfather’s work and enhance understanding of the culture it depicts is a sometimes daunting responsibility, but also a fantastic opportunity to share my passion for his art with others. It is one small way in which I can honor Moshe’s legacy and the memory of those who perished in the Holocaust. 

Although Chasing Portraits is a specific story of a quest for lost art, the film's central message is universal - we are all caretakers charged with preserving history and sharing culture. The collection may never be whole again, but with your help I can find and share as yet undiscovered pieces, better understand the vanished culture my great-grandfather's paintings portray, and ultimately pass on a legacy of understanding and hope to future generations.    

Grant We Need to Match

Chasing Portraits, the documentary film project, has been awarded a $20,000 grant from The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (Claims Conference). 

The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (Claims Conference) represents world Jewry in negotiating for compensation and restitution for victims of Nazi persecution and their heirs. Among its activities, the Claims Conference administers compensation funds, funds social welfare services, and allocates funds to preserve the memory and lessons from the Shoah. For more information, please visit www.claimscon.org 

Where Does the Money Go?

Between the Claims Conference grant for $20,000 and the $20,000 I'm hoping to raise on Kickstarter, I can finish the production phase of the film. The expenses will cover the costs of the film crew, equipment rental, and travel expenses (airfare, accommodations, ground transportation, meals). Expenses for each city are estimated and budgeted as follows: Israel ($14,340), New York ($9,250), Los Angeles ($5,388), and San Francisco ($3,150). The funds also will cover a portion of the expenses incurred during the trip to Poland in October 2014 ($7,800)

Please know that your contribution, less the value of the reward you select, is a donation. The National Center for Jewish Film (NCJF) serves as the non-profit tax-exempt umbrella organization for Chasing Portraits. In this role it accepts and administers contributions made to the film. Fiscal sponsorship allows the Moshe Rynecki documentary film project to solicit and receive tax deductible donations from individuals and gifts from foundations without having to create a 501(c)3 non-profit corporation.

Other Grant Awarded

The Taube Foundation for Jewish Life & Culture has recently awarded a grant to help support post-production of the Chasing Portraits documentary film.

The Filmmakers

Elizabeth, Johnny, Josh, Catherine, Sławomir, Daryn, Véronica, Matthias
Elizabeth, Johnny, Josh, Catherine, Sławomir, Daryn, Véronica, Matthias

ELIZABETH RYNECKI, Producer. Elizabeth grew up with her great-grandfather's paintings prominently displayed on the walls of her family home and understood from an early age that the art connected her to a legacy from ‘the old country,’ Poland. Elizabeth has a BA in Rhetoric from Bates College (’91) and a Master’s degree in Rhetoric and Speech Communication from UC Davis (’94). She wrote her Master’s thesis about the children of Holocaust survivors. 

JOHNNY SYMONS, Consulting Producer. Johnny is an Emmy-nominated independent filmmaker. His work has screened at more than 200 international film festivals and is used by hundreds of college educators and community organizers. Johnny graduated with honors from Brown University and has a master’s in documentary production from Stanford University  

JOSH PETERSON, Editor. Josh is a freelance editor doing work for a varied list of clients including KQED, Lucasfilm, Apple, and a long list of independent documentary producers. He edited The Rape of Europa, which was short-listed for a Best Documentary Academy Award. He edited the original 9 minute proof of concept trailer for Chasing Portraits.

CATHERINE GREENBLATT, Narrative Development. 
Cathy is an independent scholar, cultural projects consultant, and writer. She received a PhD in the History of Consciousness Program from the University of California Santa Cruz, with a concentration in visual studies. 

SLAWOMIR GRUNBERG, Cinematographer. Slawomir, an Emmy Award winning documentary producer, director, and cameraman is a graduate of the Polish Film School in Lodz. Born in Poland, he immigrated to the US in 1981. His most recent film is “Karski & The Lords of Humanity.”

DARYN ROVEN, Sound Editor. Daryn is a seasoned recording engineer/producer, working freelance out of his home studio for over a decade. Previously he was chief engineer at Russian Hill Recording, one of San Francisco’s premiere recording facilities. 

VÉRONICA DUPORT DELIZ, Editor. Véronica has been recognized for the visual aesthetics and story-telling capability of her work, and the passion she has for her craft. She graduated Summa Cum Laude with special distinction & holds a Master of Fine Arts in Cinema from San Francisco State University. Véronica is the editor for the new 3 minute trailer.

MATTHIAS ZIMMERMANN, Composer. Matthias, an award winning composer, arranger, orchestrator and conductor. A Swiss native, he studied film music composition at Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA where he graduated with honors in Film Scoring. He has been commissioned on projects ranging from commercials, song arranger, to composer, orchestrator and conductor for feature film scores. Matthias composed and produced the original score for the new 3 minute trailer.

And a Thank You to Kristian Melom who filmed the introduction piece for the Kickstarter video campaign.

Risks and challenges

Taking on a documentary film project is not a lighthearted endeavor. It takes commitment, perseverance, and strength to get through the ups and downs. The Chasing Portraits project is a sprawling story that requires me to engage with the history of the Holocaust, to address Holocaust era art looting policies, and to engage private collectors, all while searching for my great-grandfather’s lost art and navigating emotional family history.

I hope my commitment to the documentary film project is visible in my long term dedication to the project: in length, over more than a decade, and in breadth, across an increasing number of platforms (e.g. the website, Facebook, Twitter, and newsletter updates), plus my travel to Warsaw and soon to Israel. But of course there are risks. The biggest is that I won't be able to finish filming or that I won't successfully raise sufficient funds to go into post-production, which would make finishing the film impossible. I think this is a very remote possibility, both because of my persistence and my success so far.

It’s always hard to say for certain that a project will make it to the finish line, but in my case it will not be because of a lack of ambition or dedication. I have an obsessive focus and drive for this project and now that I'm this close to the end, I'm not going to give up. I hope you believe in the importance of this project and help Chasing Portraits to reach its goal. Thank you for your support!

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    Pledge $5 or more About $5

    FRIEND: Your name in the credits on my website (and my gratitude)! Also updates from our email newsletter.

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    Pledge $15 or more About $15

    BACKER: Everything above PLUS a 5x7 postcard featuring the artwork of Moshe Rynecki sent as a thank you note to you! Frame the postcard or pin it up and enjoy your own mini exhibition at home!

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    SUPPORTER: Downloadable version! You'll receive a digital download of the film when it's done.

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    CONTRIBUTOR: Everything above PLUS 5 blank Moshe Rynecki greeting cards.

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    Pledge $100 or more About $100

    DONOR: Everything above PLUS an 18" x 24" promotional film poster featuring the artwork of Moshe Rynecki and behind-the-scenes photographs.

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    Pledge $150 or more About $150

    BENEFACTOR: Everything above PLUS a copy of the 30 page full color book "Moshe Rynecki: Portrait of a Life in Art" which features a selected collection of his best artworks.

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    Pledge $250 or more About $250

    SPONSOR: Everything above PLUS a 30 minute chat on Skype with Elizabeth Rynecki (producer) - We can discuss the making of docfilms, art, history, or any questions you might have about the making of Chasing Portraits!

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    Pledge $500 or more About $500

    PATRON: Lunch with Elizabeth Rynecki (producer) in San Francisco. We can discuss documentary filmmaking or stories from behind the film. Lunch paid for by Elizabeth, and when we get together for lunch, I'll bring you 5 blank Moshe Rynecki notecards, the poster, and the Moshe Rynecki color book! I can sign them, too, if you'd like! Travel to location not included in reward. Date of lunch to be negotiated.

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    Pledge $2,500 or more About $2,500

    ASSOCIATE PRODUCER: Chasing Portraits will recognize your AMAZING support with an Associate Producer credit in the film. You will receive invitations to screenings and premieres and receive regular updates on the film's progress. In addition you can choose either a 60 minute Skype chat OR lunch in San Francisco (travel to location not included in reward) with Elizabeth Rynecki (producer). You will also receive a generous package of all our merchandise for your support!

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    Pledge $4,500 or more About $4,500

    PRIVATE SCREENING: A private screening presented by Elizabeth Rynecki (producer) with live Q&A for you and up to thirty guests of your choosing at any venue you provide in the continental United States. You and each of your guests will receive a special goodie bag of Chasing Portraits swag!

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    Pledge $5,500 or more About $5,500

    PRIVATE TOUR: A private tour of the Moshe Rynecki art collection held by the Rynecki family in the San Francisco Bay Area for up to 6 people. Catered lunch and a personal guided tour of the art from Elizabeth and her father included. In addition, each guest will receive a special goodie bag of Chasing Portraits swag! Travel to location not included in reward. Date of lunch and tour to be worked out between buyer of this reward and the Rynecki family. Reward to be collected by December 2016.

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Funding period

- (28 days)