First Run Features is pleased to announce that Elizabeth Rynecki’s documentary Chasing Portraits will open in New York on April 26 and in Los Angeles on May 17. Elizabeth Rynecki will be present for post-screening Q&A’s opening weekend.
The theatrical premiere comes after playing in a number of sold-out festival screenings worldwide including the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival and the New York Jewish Film Festival.
Spanning three generations, Chasing Portraits is a deeply moving narrative of the richness of one man’s art, the devastation of war, and one woman’s unexpected path to healing. Moshe Rynecki (1881-1943) was a prolific Warsaw-based artist who painted scenes of the Polish-Jewish community until he was murdered at Majdanek concentration camp. After the Holocaust, Moshe’s wife was only able to recover a small fraction of his work, but unbeknownst to the family, many other pieces survived.
For more than a decade Moshe’s great-granddaughter, Elizabeth, has searched for the missing art, with remarkable and unexpected success. Her commitment was inspired by the obligation she felt to tell the story of her great-grandfather’s paintings. Her family lost most everything in the war; given how much of Warsaw was destroyed, and how few Polish Jews survived, it is a miracle that her father, grandparents – and any of her great-grandfather’s paintings – survived at all.
I grew up surrounded by my great-grandfather’s paintings; they were prominently displayed on the walls of my family home. I understood from an early age that his art connected me to a history that, while not exactly my own, still overshadowed my life. When I started the project, it felt critical to me to document the history and share the art. It’s been eye opening to see how contemporary politics and a significant increase in anti-Semitic incidents around the world have enhanced the importance and relevance of the film for today’s audiences. My documentary is focused on my great-grandfather’s art and my quest for his lost paintings, but inevitably draws attention to larger themes about the long reaching impacts of war and what it means to be a refugee. I feel like the film is a statement not only about my great-grandfather’s art and issues surrounding Holocaust era looted art, but about the role of art and the artist.
I’m often asked why I am not a claimant fighting for the return of my great-grandfather’s paintings. My great-grandfather painted because he was passionate about the Polish-Jewish community and he wanted to record the people he knew and loved. Getting paintings back is only one form of justice. Being able to share my great-grandfather’s art with others is a form of social and historical justice. Seeing audiences discover his work feels like an enormous win.
I hope that after seeing my great-grandfather’s art, audiences will love it and gain a better understanding of the rich and vibrant world of Polish-Jewish art that was lost during the war. If the film inspires audiences to be curious about their own family history, that would be ideal. I also hope that by sharing my own personal experiences navigating my family’s Holocaust legacy, audiences will begin to see how the effects of war cascade down to subsequent generations.
ELIZABETH RYNECKI–Director/Producer/Writer–Elizabeth has a BA in Rhetoric from Bates College (’91) and an MA in Rhetoric and Communication from UC Davis (’94). Her Master’s thesis focused on children of Holocaust survivors. In 1999, Elizabeth designed the original Moshe Rynecki: Portrait of a Life in Art website. Her book, also titled Chasing Portraits, was published by Penguin Random House in September 2016. This is her first film.
Early Praise for CHASING PORTRAITS:
“This moving portrait of one woman’s effort to connect with her family history and particularly with a man she never knew had me tearing up. The connections she made with her great grandfather across time and space was magical.
Highly recommended.”–Steve Kopian, Unseen Films
“In addition to the tragic, miraculous history behind the pieces, Moshe’s depictions of the everyday lives of Polish Jews in the 1920’s and 1930’s serve as a window into a thriving community of 3 million that would later be nearly erased. By allowing us a similarly intimate seat next to Elizabeth on her journey, ‘Chasing Portraits’ is an emotional trip for the viewer as well.”–Athens Banner-Herald
“Undeniably potent.”–Cinema St. Louis
- Directed by Elizabeth Rynecki
- Produced by Elizabeth Rynecki
- Written by Elizabeth Rynecki
- Consulting Producer: Johnny Symons
- Edited by Tina Nguyen
- Consulting Editor: Josh Peterson
- Director of Photography: Slawomir Grunberg
- Composed by Matthias Zimmermann
- Additional Composer: Jake Bloomfield-Misrach
- Sound Designed and Mixed by James Lebrecht