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Finding Babel

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Catalogue Number:  TVP020
Producer:  Video Project, Inc.
Producing Agencies:  Finding Babel LLC, Odessa Films
Subject:  Arts, Documentary, Guidance, Health, History, Jewish Studies, Literature, Politics, Social Sciences, Sociology, World History
Language:  English
Grade Level:  Post Secondary, Adult
Country Of Origin:  United States
Copyright Year:  2016
Running Time:  88:00

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Finding Babel follows the grandson of famed Russian-Jewish author Isaac Babel as he searches for answers to better understand the enigmatic man he never met. Babel’s writings, considered masterpieces of Russian literature, challenged the reality of life under rising Soviet totalitarianism, leading to his execution as part of Stalin's purges in 1940.

Andrei Malaev­-Babel journeys through locations deeply tied to the life and writings of his grandfather, where he confronts lingering traces of a turbulent history that echo in Babel’s stories and in the climate and conflicts of today’s Ukraine and Russia. With each stop, Andrei gets closer to the truth about his grandfather and the complex stories that he wrote with depth and hidden meaning.

Mentored by Maxim Gorky, Babel was thrust upon the international stage with Red Cavalry, a bold war narrative, followed by Odessa Stories. His many short stories and stage plays examined Soviet society with a critical eye. Woven into the film are excerpts from Babel’s writings read by actor Liev Schreiber, coupled with unique, ethereal animations that serve to illustrate Babel’s works.

Ultimately, through powerful interviews, including Babel’s widow, and a painful examination of his formerly secret case file, Andrei learns more of the details of his grandfather’s arrest, torture and execution. As the first American film crew allowed inside KGB archives, Andrei and the filmmakers gained unprecedented access to Babel’s file. Chillingly, Andrei found his grandfather’s last act of writing -- not a hoped for lost manuscript or personal letter -- but rather a shaky signature officially acknowledging his death sentence.

The search for Babel shows that although the author was executed, his works still resonate powerfully with lessons for today.

Featuring the voice of Liev Schreiber.

Winner - Special Jury Prize, Moscow Jewish Film Festival


-Seattle International Film Festival - North American Premiere
-Odessa International Film Festival
-Haifa International Film Festival
-Molodist 45th Kyiv International Film Festival
-ArtDocFest, Moscow
-Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival, Estonia
-Moscow Jewish Film Festival

"Director David Novack’s impressive documentary is as much an artful exploration of Isaac Babel’s life, writings, and political commentaries as it is a heartfelt journey by Babel’s grandson to 'search for the grandfather I never met.' Liev Schreiber’s dramatic readings from Red Cavalry and other works give meaning to drawings, historic photos, archival footage, and animation.” - Booklist
"Recommended. Finding Babel follows the writer's grandson, Andrei Malaev-Babel, as he travels to the important places in his grandfather's research his ancestor's past and explore Babel's posthumous legacy..." - Video Librarian
"Finding Babel provides an exemplary, moving, haunting introduction to Isaac Babel's writing and his world.... At a moment consumed with the rise of tyranny in Russia, the resurgence of right-wing extremism in Europe -- and the US -- and the crisis of refugees over the entire world, Babel's storytelling, his rhetorical restraint, and his moral fearlessness are more urgent than ever. Finding Babel reminds us all of who Babel was, and why he matters." – Marc Caplan, Judaic Studies and Comparative Literature, Yale University

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