The Ciesla Foundation produces and distributes films to educate the public on social issues of the past and present.
Director Aviva Kempner established The Ciesla Foundation as a 501 (c) (3) public, tax-exempt educational foundation in 1981. Its original task was to promote educational materials on issues relating to the Holocaust and the occurrence of Jewish resistance to it. Oral histories with partisans were conducted, and Partisans of Vilna, an award-winning documentary film on Jewish resistance against the Nazis, was produced and released in September 1986. The National Endowment for the Humanities, other foundations, and private contributors provided funding.
The Ciesla Foundation also raised funds from private foundations and individuals to make a second documentary, The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg. Grants came from the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, D.C. Community Humanities Council, National Endowment of the Arts, PBS, and private foundations in California, Illinois, Florida, Michigan, New York, Ohio, and Washington, D.C. The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg was theatrically distributed in 2000 and was a huge success. It aired on HBO�s Cinemax, on Northwest Airlines in-flight entertainment channel and was released on video and DVD in Fall 2001 by Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment. The film was also shown on PBS stations.
The Ciesla Foundation�s third work was the production of Today I Vote for My Joey, a comic short about the 2000 Presidential Elections in Palm Beach County. It won best short at the New Jersey Film Festival, and has screened all over the country. The film was made under the auspices of the American Film Institute�s Directing Workshop for Women.
The Foundation is currently producing a film about Gertrude Berg, an American Jewish heroine who triumphed during the most difficult years for American Jews. Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg is a ninety-minute documentary on America�s favorite radio and television personality. Berg was the creator, principal writer and star of the popular 1930�s radio show and then the 1950�s weekly situation TV comedy The Goldbergs.
Other projects in development include Samuel Gompers: America�s First Labor Leader, a documentary film that explores immigrant and labor history and the leadership Samuel Gompers provided for the American Federation of Labor, and The Rosenwald Schools, about how Chicago businessman and philanthropist Julius Rosenwald aided Booker T. Washington, head of The Tuskegee Institute, in establishing over five thousand schools for African Americans in the rural South.
In the 1980's, The Ciesla Foundation produced Partisans of Vilna, which Ms. Kempner co-wrote and produced. Partisans of Vilna aired on PBS's Point of View (P.O.V.), Bravo and on European and Israeli television. The record based on the film was nominated for a 1991 Grammy Award. New Video just released the DVD on Partisans of Vilna�s 20th anniversary that includes the film, CD, study guide, and songbook.
The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg won audience awards at the Hamptons International Film Festival, Hong Kong Film Festival, and Washington Jewish Film Festival; Spirit Award for Best Sports Documentary, International Sports Video and Film Awards; top honors from the National Society of Film Critics, the National Board of Review, the New York Film Critics Circle and Broadcast Film Critics Association. Winner of a CINE Golden Eagle and the George Peabody Award.
A child of a Holocaust survivor and a US Army officer, Ms. Kempner was born in Berlin, Germany after World War II. Her heritage inspired Ms. Kempner to produce and co-write Partisans of Vilna, a documentary on Jewish resistance against the Nazis, which just came out on DVD. She was the executive producer of the 1989 Grammy-award nominated record, Partisans of Vilna: The Songs of World War II Jewish Resistance.
She is the scriptwriter, director and producer of The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg, a film about the Jewish slugger who fought anti-Semitism in the 1930�s and 40�s. It was awarded top honors by the National Society of Film Critics, the National Board of Review, the New York Film Critics Circle, and the Broadcast Film Critics Association. The film received a George Peabody Award and was nominated for an Emmy.
In her documentaries, Ms. Kempner investigates non-stereotypical images of Jews in history and focuses on the untold stories of Jewish heroes. Upset with the 2000 election results, she was inspired to make the short, Today I Vote for My Joey, from the script she wrote about Election Day in Palm Beach for the AFI�s Directing Workshop for Women.
She is producing and directing Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg, a ninety-minute documentary on America�s favorite radio and television personality. Berg was the creator, principal writer and star of the popular 1930�s radio show and then the 1950�s weekly situation TV comedy, The Goldbergs.
She is also researching several film projects. One is Samuel Gompers: America�s First Labor Leader, a documentary film that explores immigrant and labor history and the leadership Samuel Gompers provided for the American Federation of Labor. Another is The Rosenwald Schools, about how Chicago businessman and philanthropist Julius Rosenwald aided Booker T. Washington, head of The Tuskegee Institute, in establishing over five thousand schools for African Americans in the rural South.
Ms. Kempner is a recipient of the 1996 Guggenheim Fellowship and the 2000 DC Mayor�s Art Award. She received the 2001 Women of Vision award from D.C.�s Women in Film and Video chapter and the 2001 Media Arts award from the National Foundation for Jewish Culture.
She writes film criticism and feature articles for numerous publications, including The Boston Globe, The Forward, Washington Jewish Week and The Washington Post. She also lectures about cinema throughout the country. She started the Washington Jewish Film Festival in 1989. She attended the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, McDowell and Yaddo artist colonies in 2002-2004.
She has served on the board of CINE, DC VOTE, Forum for the Psychoanalytical Study of Film, District of Columbia Jewish Community Center, and Women in Film and Video. Ms. Kempner lives in Washington, DC where she plays a prominent role in the artist and film community. She is also an activist for voting rights for the District of Columbia.
She is the recipient of the NEA Mid-Atlantic Region Media Arts Fellowship in 1987, 1992, & 1993 and the Individual Artist Grants from the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, the National Endowment for the Arts in 1988, 1990, 1991 & 1995. Her films have also received grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and state humanities boards.
Ms. Kempner wrote chapters for the books, Daughters of Absence, What Israel Means to Me, and Jews and American Popular Culture.