San Diegan directs documentary on lesbian parents
Film premieres at Jewish Film Festival, Feb. 15
Published Thursday, 04-Feb-2010 in issue 1154
Nicole Opper, a graduate of Point Loma High School and New York University, is returning to San Diego for the 20th Annual San Diego Jewish Film Festival to premiere her documentary, Off and Running, at AMC La Jolla Theatres, in La Jolla on Monday, Feb. 15 at 8 p.m.
“I’m very excited to come back to San Diego,” Opper said. “We’ve been playing at dozens of festivals for about six months so it’s a long time coming, and I’m thrilled for that.”
Off and Running, is Opper’s first feature length film and tells the story of Avery Klein-Cloud, an adopted teenage girl of African-American decent raised by two Jewish lesbian mothers in Brooklyn, New York. The film depicts Avery’s transformation as she contacts her birth mother in Texas and makes her way as a Hebrew student trying to fit in at a mostly African-American high school.
This will be Opper’s second time showing a film at the San Diego Jewish Film Festival. Opper premiered Song of Hannah a film about a poet named Hannah Senesh in 2003. While doing research for the film, Opper went to Hannah Senesh School in Brooklyn, New York where she met Avery Klein-Cloud, the protagonist of Off and Running.
“This type of situation doesn’t happen often,” said San Diego Jewish Film Festival founder and honoree, Joyce Axelrod. “We’re thrilled to have her. When a film of exceptional quality comes to us, we show it. We’ve had several GLBT films that I felt were superior.”
For Song of Hannnah, Opper interviewed the students about their interest in their school’s patron Hannah Senesh, when Avery immediately indicated she wanted to be interviewed.
“I just met Avery when she was quite young and grew close to her and saw her as a character who could carry a feature length film,” Opper said. “We worked together for sometime and I ended up creating an after school program at the school because I really enjoyed working with the kids.”
While working with the students, Opper learned about Avery’s two moms.
“I wasn’t terribly surprised because I already had a sense that she was adopted or had some interesting family background,” Opper said. “When I met them, I was immediately drawn to them as a family.”
Opper said Avery’s family was the first gay family she encountered.
“I knew I was gay and would eventually adopt myself so I was magnetized by them and wanted to learn all about them,” Opper added. “I think they opened up to me because they saw where I was coming from and I saw myself in them.”
Opper described the core of Off and Running as about a family unit. Avery has two adopted brothers, Rafi, a multi-ethnic boy and Zay-Zay, a boy of Korean descent.
“[All of my projects] involve this notion of what makes a family and how we create them,” Opper said. “Particularly when we’re dealing with families across race and culture.”
The director acknowledged Off and Running has many messages, one being the need for communication between parents and children.
“If I need to put my finger on a message it’s that listening to young people is of the utmost importance particularly in this day and age,” Opper said. “A lot of what Avery was experiencing is refusal of people choosing to listen to her – projecting all of their own fears and concerns onto her and insisting that they knew what was best. What she needed during this time of great upheaval in her life was people who tried to understand what she was going through.”
Opper added an idea in the film that resonated most for parents and teenagers was the idea that Avery was not being heard.
“That’s a common reality for us and that’s the first step towards resolving a lot of our problems,” Opper said.
While in San Diego, Opper is raising money for her next project, a film about three teenage boys in Puebla, Mexico harvesting goat cheese at a home for abandoned children.
“Most of them have lived on the streets for a while before they get there,” Opper said. “They cover their cost of living and usually end up going off to college. It’s kind of a success story. I’m going to follow these boys and figure out what they’re doing right.”
“If you enjoy drama in its purest, most powerful form, you’ll like these short films,” Mark Title, past president, Visual Arts Foundation and short film critic said of the films in the festival.
“Off and Running” has been honored in several ways receiving Best Documentary Screenplay at the Silverdocs film festival, Outstanding Documentary at Outfest and Philadelphia Qfest in addition to being a finalist and audience favorite at the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival.
The 20th Annual San Diego Jewish Film Festival takes place Wednesday, Feb. 10 to Sunday, Feb. 21 at the AMC La Jolla 12 Theatres, in La Jolla. Single ticket prices start at $13. Festival passes, senior and student discounts, and group rate discounts are available. For more information, call 858-457-3030 or visit www.lfjcc.org/sdjff.