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The Slate

Letters to Frieda

Letters to Frieda

As an Emmy Award-Winning News Reporter and Docujournalist for WFMZ-TV and President of Julian Farris Films, Jaccii Farris has come across amazing stories. She’s produced award-winning documentaries like Rhoads Opera House Fire; The Legacy of a Tragedy; Aftershocks: Earthquake in Haiti; and Timebomb: Allentown Gas Explosion. But her latest project, Letters to Frieda is one of even greater importance.


Farris came across the story of Michele Willner Levy when a co-worker at WFMZ told her about Levy.


“I had to do a documentary on this woman,” Farris says. “She’s a Holocaust survivor, but not with a story you’ve heard before.”


Levy was born in 1938, just weeks after Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, where 30,000 Jews throughout Nazi Germany and Austria were arrested and incarcerated. Her parents, Charles and Frieda Willner, who had dreams of being an artist and singer, were coming of age as the darkness of the Holocaust was rising. Frieda and Michele escaped their home in Paris just before the city fell to the Nazis. Charles was separated from his family, but even once they were reunited, they had to live in secrecy.


Meanwhile, Frieda’s family in Germany could only connect with their daughter and yet unmet granddaughter through letters. In 1942, Frieda and Michele received the notes from Herman and Mina, which spoke of optimism and the hope of one day being reunited.


But that would never happen.


“The series of letters between Michele’s parents and grandparents really describes what was going on,” Farris says. “They talk about being with each other, bringing them through it all together, the tumultuous pain, agony. It’s really heartbreaking.”


The documentary will tell Levy’s story in her own words. “She’s really been truly amazing,” Farris says. “Opening up her heart and family because she really wants to make a difference. She’s testifying to the pain she experienced.”


The Julian Farris Film team is currently collecting materials and footage for the documentary. Farris, who has worked at WFMZ-TV for 14 years, also emphasizes the television station’s help as an important asset.  “The partnership with WFMZ is huge,” she says.


Farris also decided to partner with HFI through a fiscal sponsorship program after she was introduced to Founder and President of HFI, Hayden Craddolph, through mutual friends. “I remember seeing them (HFI) and thinking, ‘Wow, That’s a great organization to be involved with,’” Farris says.


Both WFMZ and HFI are helping to move the project forward along with the manpower behind Julian Farris Films, which began in 2008. Farris started the company out of a desire to devote more time to longer, more in-depth projects.


“I went and bought a camera, did small projects, short films and started churning things out,” she says. “ I’m passionate about the craft and luckily blessed to have a lot of creative people around me. Doing this kind of thing, you don’t do it for money, you do it fo?r the love of telling the story in a visual way.”


Farris’ team includes Lead Writer Amy Unger, who is the Executive Producer and a features reporter for WFMZ-TV, Production Manager Meg Reese, Creative Director Lisa Gotto and Cinematographers Andrew Goodwin and Tim Cox, among others.


Letters to Frieda is in currently in production and aimed for a January 27, 2015 premiere, the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. Farris also plans on submitting the film for consideration in the next Emmy Awards cycle.


“The most important thing of the whole film is that this is the last generation,” Farris emphasizes. “These are the last generations to hear first-hand about the account of pain and torture and devastation. There needs to be a record because pretty soon the living record will be gone. We need to make sure this treasuree doesn’t slip through our hands. We need to look back and say, ‘This is Michele’s story. Her parents lived underground and her grandparents were killed. These are the letters, the love, the tragedy.’"


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