Jewish Filmmaking

Sharing Sasha’s story

When The AJN ran a story about a young Sydney filmmaker, we never anticipated that it would spawn a beautiful filmmaking relationship with an author in Melbourne. Lexee Gordoun and Anita Selzer have teamed up to produce Sasha’s Game, which follows the story of how Anita’s father survived the Holocaust. The AJN spoke to both the filmmaker and the author about how the film came to be and what they hope the future of the film holds.

In October 2021, The AJN spoke to filmmaker Lexee Gordoun about her film Bad Beat, which explores the moral adjustments that are made when returning from war, and follows three men, post-World War II, as they bury their wounds in greed. The film won a raft of awards in the first month of the festival circuit.

Up until that point, Gordoun had never met Anita Selzer. But things were about to change. “I came across Lexee through your article in the Jewish News, where you talked about her achievements in her final year of film school,” Selzer told The AJN. “So I Googled her, and I saw that she was interested in stories about people, and that gender was a special interest of hers. So, I reached out.”

Selzer was looking for someone to make a film based on her book, I Am Sasha, which followed her father’s story surviving the war as a teenage girl.

“After reading the book, she contacted me and said ‘I have to make this film.’ And the rest, as they say, is history,” Selzer laughed.

Gordoun explained that she wrote the script for Sasha’s Game, and then went back and forth with Selzer with at least three or four phone calls a week. The pair are now exceptionally close, with both speaking of each other like family.

Gordoun said she was drawn to the story because it wasn’t like any she had heard before.

Sasha’s Game follows a young boy Sasha, who disguised himself as a girl, Sala, to survive the war. Importantly, Gordoun said, it all happened during a period of vital growth periods in his life. During his teenage years, Sasha must learn to talk, walk and act like a girl, all while going through his teenage years.

Selzer said that now seemed like the right time to make the film. “I had a memoir from my grandmother that documented a lot of the facts, and for 20 years, I held it in a drawer and couldn’t look at it,” she recalled. “The issue of gender fluidity has come to the fore in our society, it’s now something that’s very openly discussed. So I thought that it was the right time for a film to be made in terms of receptivity and understanding.”

What’s different about this story, Gordoun explained, is that it is told with a feminine touch. While so many war films focus on the violence, Sasha’s Game is told through the female gaze.

“It’s quite an emotional piece, but it’s quite delicate,” she described. “In film, we talk a lot about the female gaze versus the male gaze, and I think this film very much feels like it’s been done by a woman. It’s very delicate and it’s very, I think, intimate. So, it doesn’t have the same aggression and blood and gore that a lot of other films tend to have. It’s tackled it with quite a lot of fragility.”

Despite this though, Gordoun did describe the process as “slightly traumatic” at times. “You’re doing a lot of research, and while we tried to minimise as much violence as we could, you still read stuff and you’re thinking about it constantly. Because creativity in this industry is all-consuming,” she said, continuing to explain that they took the entire cast to the Holocaust Museum to help them understand and engage with the story. She described the project as a creative one, but also an educational one.

Selzer said that while Gordoun is the one in the driver’s seat, she kept the author up to date throughout the whole process, even down to the music and casting.

“She’s been generous all along, consulting me and asking my thoughts,” Selzer said. “She sent me pictures, music clips. She also asked me to help when it came to choosing who would play the role of my grandmother. Olga, the woman who got the part, is so similar in her strength of character.”

While Sasha’s Game is currently a short film, both Gordoun and Selzer are hoping to turn it into a feature film. Although they both pointed out that the film is very fast-paced, purely because they had to fit so much into such a small timeframe.

“I think the biggest thing to flag is that it does move quickly and to remember that it is a short film covering quite a large time period. So, it does jump back and forth quite a lot to try and cover as much story as possible,” Gordoun said.

“It really does need, I think, to be a feature film, because stories remain unfinished,” Selzer echoed.

“For example, the grandfather plays a key role in the 30-minute film, but we don’t know what happened to him in the 30-minute film because [Gordoun] had to fit in so many things. So, I would like to see that continue in a big film. You can’t do everything in 30 minutes.”

The pair is hoping to send the short to a number of festivals and find funding for a longer version. Following its world premiere at the Jewish International Film Festival (JIFF), of course.

When The AJN asked both Gordoun and Selzer how they feel to be premiering at JIFF, they spoke of immense pride that the first people to see the film properly will be the community.

“I’m blown away,” Selzer said, as her voice broke. “My friends and family have been extremely supporting, loving and nurturing. My husband especially. He feels really connected to it all. I think it will be highly emotional for me, on the night.”

Selzer explained that her children are yet to see a preview of the film because they want to experience it first-off in the theatre, with the community around them.

Gordoun noted that JIFF doesn’t usually feature short films in the general program, which makes their premiere even more special. “We were really lucky that they allowed us to be a part of their program and be given our own slot to premiere it. We’re really fortunate that they’ve opened that up for us,” she said.

Ultimately, Selzer said she hopes the book and in turn the short film – and hopefully future feature film – makes her loved ones proud.

“I think my father and my grandmother would be blown away by us even getting to this point. I have honoured my grandmother’s wish – she asked me to write the book.

Sasha’s Game will premiere at JIFF Melbourne on October 31 and in Sydney on November 8, with drinks and music in the foyer ahead of the film and a post-film Q&A with Gordoun and Selzer.


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