Film by St. Louis native featured at Jewish Film Fest event

During a double feature July 10, the Jewish Film Festival will screen the short film ‘A Children’s Song’

By Hannah Snidman, Special to the Jewish Light

As a way to extend the St. Louis Jewish Film Festival held in early June and to bring local audiences the best of Jewish cinema throughout the year, the festival will host a double feature July 10 that includes a movie directed by St. Louis native Shayna Cohen. Her film, “A Children’s Song,” will be the first of the two films shown.

The movie focuses on two students vying for one music scholarship with the same song and subsequently fighting over who owns the piece. Eventually, they realize that the tune originates from Jews discovering freedom in Shanghai during the World War II.

“ ‘A Children’s Song’ is based on a part of history that most people are unfamiliar with,” said Cohen, who now lives in Los Angeles. “The city of Shanghai became the refuge for over 22,000 Eastern European Jews during WWII. Everyone knows about Oskar Schindler, who saved the lives of 1,200 Jews, and more of these courageous stories need to be shared.”

At the time, China allowed entry to more Jewish refugees than all other countries combined. Cohen wanted to highlight this act for its relevance to an issue the world is currently grappling with.

“Once again, we are letting history repeat itself by turning away hundreds of thousands of refugees seeking safety,” Cohen said. “I wanted to tell the story of the humanity and connection that occurs when we open up our hearts and homes to others who are on the verge of losing all hope.”

Advertisement for the J

Cohen worked on the film with Sid Ganis, a past president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, after he saw Cohen’s thesis film from Chapman University’s master’s level directing program. Cohen said she feels proud that their feature can create emotional experiences for Jewish and mixed audiences alike.

“Jews have a very strong connection to the film for obvious reasons, but at the end of the day, the film celebrates humanity at its best,” Cohen said. “During wartime, when people are scared and nervous and have nothing, to still then open your eyes, hearts and homes to those who have been outcasted sparks hope in an otherwise hopeless time.”

Cohen’s other short features, “The Walk Back Down,” “Sundae Sundays” and “Gefilte Fish,” were shown in prior St. Louis Jewish Film Festivals. She is a two-time winner of the festival’s Short Film Competition.

“The Jewish Film Festival has a film selection committee that  previews and evaluates films on a variety of criteria,” said Zelda Sparks, director of the Jewish Community Center’s Cultural Arts Department and the Jewish Film Festival. “[These include] whether the film shows an aspect of Jewish life in other countries, what the target audience is for the film and if there is an accompanying speaker or program to support the film.”

Cohen said: “I always love being a part of this festival, as it is my community – both Jewish and St. Louis. I am very proud of my background and where I come from, so to be able to share my work with my community is a great honor and privilege.”