Inside the NYJFF: Exploring The Fire Within
“You don’t often ask a person of his religion the first time you meet; but in light of the film he made about the conversion process of a Peruvian community in the Amazon basin, I felt comfortable asking The Fire Within director Lorry Salcedo Mitrani whether he was Jewish. The story he told me revealed as much about the subjects of his documentary as his own personal history.
Lorry’s grandfather was a Sephardic Jew from Turkey. He was sent by his parents to New York to avoid persecution, did not like it and continued to Peru. There, he met his future wife, a Catholic woman with whom he started a family. He was one of two Jews in his town, and was always referred to as ‘el judio’ (the Jew) but did not experience anti-Jewish sentiments. They decided to raise the boys as Jewish and the girls as Catholic. Lorry, a descendant through his mother, was brought up Catholic, but had Jewish uncles and cousins with whom he went to synagogue, participated in Bar Mitzvahs and Jewish weddings and did not experience it as a bizarre situation. Lorry’s grandfather died when Lorry was 12 and his memories of him are as the weird grandfather who spoke Ladino.
Still, Lorry’s interest in his own ancestry drove him to begin telling the story of the Jewish immigration of Peru in photography, starting in 1990. After researching in many family archives, he became aware of the Jewish community in Iquitos and found himself fascinated by the way the group combined indigenous customs with Judeo-Christian faith. In 2002 Salcedo published the book (The Eternal Return: Homage to the Jewish Community of Peru) and decided that the story of the Jews of Iquitos needed to be made into a film. He met Ariel Segal, a South American born historian who was working in Iquitos documenting the lives and history of the community aka the ‘mestizos’. There was a genuine yearning of the people to formally convert. As a puzzle waiting to be completed, the film maker and the historian followed the hard work of the people of the congregation and the rabbis who worked together toward the goal of conversion and immigration to Israel.
The experience of Lorry’s grandfather is parallel to the protagonists in his film. Both found a way to mix religions into their families. Salcedo became aware and interested in Jewish themes later in his adulthood and feels it was a part of his creative process in making the film. He describes himself as a visual anthropologist who translates social stories and issues into artistic visual language.”
-Ronit Waisbrod, New York Jewish Film Festival correspondent
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