The Anthem Film Festival program described What’s Your Number as, “An emotional connection is made between a Holocaust survivor and an African American kid as they sit together on a park bench.” That only scratched the surface of what was packed into this 18-minute film by Sigal Erez. The film won the Anthem Film Festival award for Best Libertarian Ideals in the short narrative category.
The film and an interview with the filmmaker by festival director Jo Ann Skousen can be viewed online until Oct 31.
A Holocaust survivor, played by veteran actor Drew Snyder, enjoys a beautiful day in the park. He encounters a young boy, played by Alexander Arzu, in fact almost runs into him while he’s bouncing his basketball. The boy joins the old man on the bench, and they begin to talk.
The boy notices a tattoo on the man’s arm and asks him if the tattoo is his birthday. The tattoo is a concentration camp ID from Nazi Germany. This begins a deeper conversation about history and individualism, and a flashback to the experiences of the man’s sister in a concentration camp.
Sigal Erez, born to a Moroccan/Spanish/Jewish family, traveled extensively and speaks four languages. She attended the Lee Strasberg School in New York and the UCLA screenwriting program. Besides writing and directing, she has acted, written lyrics and poetry, and served as a master of ceremonies for events around Los Angeles.
The daughter of a merchant marine who became a rabbi, she is also a mother, and holds spiritual study groups at her home. She spoke with Anthem Film Festival director Jo Ann Skousen about What’s Your Number.
Where Did It Start?
Skousen asked Erez what brought her to this story.
Erez said it had two origins: “There’s a story called the Black Angels. As the war was ending, groups of African-American soldiers were told to go into the gas chambers and see if anyone was left alive. The Germans were trying to hide all the evidence, but many were surprised and so some of the gas chambers were still on and people were trapped in them. The soldiers wore white protective suits and went in and actually found some people still alive.”
Erez then explained her personal connection to the story. “I grew up in the north of Israel,” she said. “I had a teacher who when asked how she survived the Holocaust would say, ‘A black angel saved me.’”
The second part of the origin was a dream. Erez said, “About four years ago I began to have dreams about what became the character Carla in the movie. She took me to see how she and her brother were saved from this pit of burned bodies. It was a weird dream and I didn’t know why I was having such a vivid dream. Eventually I began to write out all the details in this dream. Somehow, while I was writing this, the memory of my teacher’s story came back to me, and I felt Carla was saved by a black angel.”
Like a Painting
Skousen was impressed by the cast. She remarked, “Your actress Zoey Yale as Carla was exquisite. She says almost nothing, but you film her almost like a Botticelli painting. There is such depth to her. Fragility and strength at the same time. And Drew Snyder as the survivor just feels like he’s sitting on a park bench talking to this little boy. Does he have a personal connection with the Holocaust or is he just acting?”
Erez replied, “We were accepted into 30 festivals and in almost every festival he is asked that question. He’s not even Jewish. He’s a great actor. I found him when I was casting on IMDB. He read the original script and he wrote me back and said, ‘I love the story, but the script is not ready. You need to do some work.’” She laughed. “I agreed with him actually and I did the work.”
The Title and Theme
Skousen said, “I wanted to talk about your title and your theme. You take this very terrible symbol of oppression – the number on the wrist – and in the end of the film you turn it into something wonderful and inspiring.”
Erez explained, “I grew up with people – I have relatives all over the world – who believe that we are on God’s list. That we are souls and all of us, no matter what ethnic group or nationality, are souls and we all really matter.”
She continued, “Many Holocaust survivors were asked why are you not erasing this number? You are going to have to look at it every day for the rest of your life. They would explain that the number reminds them of many things. Not just the evil things but friends and family. And I believe we all have a number on God’s list, and we all matter to him.”
The Future is Freedom
Skousen became emotional. “What a wonderful way to end this interview,” she said. “What an inspiring film. I think it has a really strong message for today when we’ve become so divisive, so bitter, and so divided. To be able to come together like this, and to look at our history, not as something to erase, but as something to embrace because it is all part of what has made us who we are.”
Erez concluded, “And I love how you responded to the film. You are an example of what democracy is, where people can come and share their ideas and thoughts. That’s real freedom.”