Linda G. Mills is the inaugural Lisa Ellen Goldberg professor at New York University and co-Chair of the Advisory Board of the Of Many Institute with Chelsea Clinton (who produced “Of Many”). Born in Los Angeles, Mills co-directed the documentary Auf Wiedersehen: ‘Til We Meet Again, a film that explores the intergenerational transmission of trauma, from the Holocaust to 9/11. The film was an official selection at eight film festivals, including the Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival where it won an audience award, the Jerusalem Jewish Film Festival, and the Vienna Jewish Film Festival. (Press materials)
The 34-minute “Of Many” will debut at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 17.
Please give us your description of the film playing.
Set against the dramatic backdrop of 9/11, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and the tension between Jewish and Muslim college students, “Of Many” focuses on the surprising and transformative relationship between an orthodox rabbi and an imam who serve as university chaplains in New York City. Through a series of voyages to communities struck by catastrophe, we witness young religious Jews and Muslims working together to overcome long-standing divides. Poignant and funny, this short documentary offers an inspiring narrative of an unorthodox friendship that provides hope for upending the destiny of this conflict.
What drew you to this story?
The Middle East conflict stands as the most intractable; over and over, misunderstandings abound. Still, we were convinced that the course of this conflict might be altered by telling this story. As a Jewish woman who witnessed 9/11 at very close range, I felt particularly moved by the Muslim chaplain and all the students that have been engaged in this work — our two cultures have so much in common, and yet how little we know about each other. It was incredible to bear witness to the development of the friendship between a rabbi and an imam and all that could flow from it — if it could happen here, it could happen anywhere.
What was the biggest challenge?
The biggest challenge was balancing — the Middle East, 9/11, are all so deeply fraught. Our task was to stay focused on a friendship that had the potential to transform these tensions.
What advice do you have for other female directors?
Faith. Create a film family. These bonds help overcome the million and one obstacles to telling your story.
What’s the biggest misconception about you and your work?
Bold decisions are often misunderstood. In our first documentary, Auf Wiedersehen: ‘Til We Meet Again, we featured our ten-year-old son in a story about my family’s escape from the Nazis in Vienna. As might be expected, our son, Ronnie, was everything ten-year-olds are — irreverent, bored, playful, but also insightful, philosophical, emotional. Presenting his multi-faceted perspective as a legitimate voice in the film offended some audiences, particularly those who have come to expect a certain tone in Holocaust filmmaking.
Do you have any thoughts on what are the biggest challenges and/or opportunities for the future with the changing distribution mechanisms for films?
If your goal is impact, the changing distribution mechanisms provide groundbreaking avenues for telling your story. If and how these new platforms can change the fate of women’s filmmaking is yet to be seen.
Name your favorite women directed film and why.
Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty. Love the title, the science, and the color of the film. Jane Campion’s The Piano was a fabulous period piece. I love to lose myself in costume dramas. On television, Scandal, Mad Men, and Girls are important and intriguing examples of women’s work.