Backstage Interview: Karen Goodman and Kirk Simon, “Strangers No More”

Strangers No More is a short documentary film about a school in Tel Aviv where children from forty-eight different countries and diverse backgrounds come together to learn. The film follows three students as they struggle to acclimate to life in Israel and slowly unveil their stories of hardship. Strangers No More was shot on location at the Bialik-Rogozin School in Tel Aviv. It is produced and directed by Karen Goodman and Kirk Simon of Simon & Goodman Picture Company, whose films have received four Academy Award nominations and three Emmy Awards. It won best Short Documentary at the Academy Awards in 2011.

Acceptance Speech

(Karen Goodman)
Wow, what a great year for docs. Thank you most of all to the exceptional immigrant and refugee children from 48 countries at Tel Aviv’s remarkable Bialik-Rogozin School. You’ve shown us that through education, understanding, and tolerance, peace really is possible.

(Kirk Simon)
Love and gratitude to our visionary executive producer Lin Arison, HBO’s finest, Sheila Nevins, our co-producer and editor Nancy Baker, cinematographer, Buddy Squires, the courageous principal, Karen Tal, the children who opened their hearts to us and the precious Oliver and Allegra Simon.

Here’s the backstage interview at the 2011 Oscars with Kirk Simon & Karen Goodman

Q. Congratulations.
A. Thank you.

Q. So talk a little bit on the category like this, with films that aren’t really viewed by the vast majority of the audience, what does it mean in the wake of winning an Oscar for getting the film in front of eyeballs afterwards.
A. [Goodman] In this film in particular it’s been a very fulfilling journey even before tonight because it has brought a spotlight to a miraculous very small school in Tel Aviv where children from 48 different countries, most of them immigrant and refugees who have had ravaged pasts come and learn together in peace so there’s been a tremendous spotlight on the school, tremendous interest and support of the school, both financial and intellectual, but also around the world, the message of hope is starting to get out there through this microcosm of 800 children who really do believe that peace is possible.

A. [Simon] And I would just add that so often people here in the United States when you think of Israel you immediately think of conflict or possible war or one of the most dangerous places in the world and we’re proud to present something that’s an inside view, something that’s really very, very special, warm and compassionate, and a part of Israel which is really helping the kids of the school and kids of all religions from 48 countries, all skin colors and it’s a place of divine multi culturalism.

Q. Documentary filmmakers often get very, very involved with their subjects and it sounds like you have too.
A. Shame on us.

Q. Are you going to take these back and can you talk about it? Do you expect to continue to be involved with them?
A. [Goodman] With the school and the children? Oh my gosh, of course. I mean, every documentary filmmaker I know of any regard will tell you the same thing, that you enter someone’s life or a group of people’s lives and you become part of their family in a very particular way that you wouldn’t in any other walk of life. And so we have friends around the world, we have friends that are chimpanzees, we have friends that whose children have undergone major surgeries. It’s a part of making a documentary, it’s a part of people’s lives and you become a part of each other’s lives forever.
A. [Simon] We’ve been making documentary films for 30 years, and when you make a film like this you enter someone’s life and it’s very special and it’s a responsibility that you have to really take to heart, that the friendships that you make do stay with you for the rest of your life.

Q. Thank you so much, and congratulations.

  • cassandra

    Every industrial country in the world is struggling to deal with a flood of third-world immigrants. France recently passed a law forbidding burkas. Yet Israel gets singled out. I wonder why.

  • Stinkyleche

    Reminds me of photo-opportunity Israel mission to earthquake shattered Haiti. First to arrive, first to call press conference, first to do press release that they helped to deliver baby named Israel by grateful mother and first to pack up and leave.

    It’s big news in Israel that “Strangers No More” has won an Oscar.

    So what is the Israeli government showing us by planning a mass expulsion of such children? Understanding and tolerance won’t be found here. (And you’d better look somewhere else for peace, too).

    After a five month delay, which followed a year-long battle over the matter, the deportation of 400 children and their parents is scheduled to begin on Sunday—just a week after “Strangers No More” won an Oscar. Just a week after a crowd in the US applauded the touching story of foreigners who find a home here in Israel. Just a week after the Israeli media runs its hip-hip-hooray! reports of the win, the Oz Unit will start rounding such kids up. And one of the children is the 10-year-old star of the film. According to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel:

    “…10-year-old Esther who starred in the movie is facing a probable deportation alongside an estimated 120 pupils from her school. Esther fled from South Africa and arrived in Israel with her father four years ago – thus missing the five-year mark set as a condition to remaining in the country.”

    In fact on Sunday, the very day that the Oscar was awarded, South Tel Aviv’s kindergartens were half-empty. Why? According to the Israeli news site Walla, parents kept their children home from school because they were so frightened of the immigration police.

    And it seems that “strangers” are strangers to the Israeli government—no matter how tolerant and understanding the children might make the state seem to the world.

    Those who support the children’s right to stay in Israel will be rallying on Friday at 12:30 in Gan Meir.

    Mya Guarnieri is a Tel Aviv-based writer and journalist.