Logline: A shofar blower, a gun shop housed in a former synagogue, and eleven hundred mitzvahs (good deeds) weave this intimate tapestry of a community rebuilding after eleven people are murdered inside their synagogue for being Jewish.
On Saturday, October 27th, 2018, a white supremacist, further radicalized by the political climate at the time, walked into the Tree of Life Synagogue with four semiautomatic assault weapons, shouting “all Jews must die.” He murdered eleven congregants, ranging in age from 54 to 97, as they prayed.
A TREE OF LIFE creates a deeply personal portrait of the survivors, victims, and the victims’ family members of the Pittsburgh Synagogue attack, and brings into sharp focus the hate-based crisis that threatens our collective safety and democracy. As the first film to document the survivor’s stories and the only documentary with this level of personal access to the survivors and families of the victims, viewers will experience first-hand how the lives of those directly affected have fundamentally changed and how the Pittsburgh community and the congregations set out on a path towards healing.
“We started out telling an American-Jewish story, then a Pittsburgh story, and now in its ultimate form the film is a universal story,” says director Trish Adlesic. We hear the harrowing story of the attack through the voices of the family members of the slain; Michele Rosenthal, Anthony Fienberg, Andrea Wedner and those that survived on October 27th, 2018: Audrey Glickman, Dr. Joseph Charny, Stephen Weiss, Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, Rabbi Jonathan Perlman, Barry Werber, Andrea and her husband Ron Wedner, Carol Black, and Daniel Leger and Augie Serano.
While A TREE OF LIFE focuses on an anti-semitic attack on a synagogue, it is but one heartbreaking story in our national “hate crisis” driven by anti-semitic, racist, and white supremacist sentiment.. Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, (now often referred to as “America’s Rabbi” following the Tree of Life attack) states: “It promotes a moral decay in humanity when you’re going to treat people as an “other” and think of them as less than human.”
Survivor Dan Leger, who was gravely injured in the attack and watched his friend Jerry Rabinowitz die in front of him, exhibits extraordinary strength and compassion as he recounts how he hopes to speak face-to-face with the shooter in prison in order to prevent further radicalization spread by the shooter to other inmates. Following these threads we learn how the survivors and victims’ families have lived, day in and day out, in the months and years following the attack, capturing the fortitude and insights of the survivors and the victims’ families. We learn from Wasi Mohammed, [Former Director of the Islamic Community?] and others how the Pittsburgh and Squirrel Hill communities came together to reject hate, anti-semitism, and white supremacy at one of the city’s most vulnerable moments in its history. Through verite scenes filmed in the community around the time of the attack the film addresses crucial issues including gun control and online radicalization that have created this moment of rising anti-semitic and racist hate in America. In this deeply personal portrait of a community devastated by white supremacist violence, A TREE OF LIFE challenges the narrowing definition of exactly who should be considered an American and what kind of nation we want to be.
Director Biography – Trish Adlesic
The Tree of Life documentary team is led by Oscar-nominated and Emmy-winning producer/director Trish Adlesic, a Pittsburgh native who was at her childhood home the day of the heinous attack. Trish teamed with Josh Fox and HBO to produce Gasland and Gasland II, which received an Academy Award nomination and won an Emmy. These seminal documentaries expose the environmental devastation and public safety hazards of “fracking.” Gasland premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2010 and Gasland Part II premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2013 to much acclaim. Trish and Josh Fox led a diverse group of stakeholders (elected officials, NGOs, government institutions, and concerned citizens) to use the film to advocate for and then pass the first ban on fracking in America, in Trish’s hometown of Pittsburgh.
Trish co-directed with Geeta Gandbhir and co-produced I Am Evidence along with Mariska Hargitay (Law & Order: SVU) about the alarming number of untested sexual assault kits in America. It premiered on HBO in April of 2018. I Am Evidence was awarded the prestigious duPont Columbia prize and was a Peabody finalist. The film was awarded a Primetime Emmy Honors award and also received the Silver Gavel award for excellence in journalism from the American Bar Association. I Am Evidence received two Emmy nominations, and won the Emmy Award for best documentary. The wide distribution and screening of I Am Evidence also inspired an unprecedented examination of the experience of sexual assault survivors in the justice system and the testing of decades-long backlogged rape kits. I Am Evidence’s education and social action campaign led to 48 pieces of legislation across the United States.
Trish has over 20 years of experience working in narrative filmmaking with such notable directors as Gus Van Sant, Finding Forrester, James L. Brooks, As Good as It Gets, Michael Mann, The Insider, Jim Sheridan, In America, Get Rich or Die Tryin’, and Sidney Lumet, Night Falls on Manhattan. She worked on the hit TV show Law & Order: SVU for 14 seasons.