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Interview with Award Winning Documentarian Ian Rosenberg
By Maria Esteves - June 22, 2012
Ian Rosenberg (IR) is a producer and Award winning documentarian who lives in New York and married to co-director and producer Caroline Laskow. He is co-founder and member of OVO, a not-for-profit New York City arts collective. In 2003, Rosenberg co-produced the Award winning documentary “Ashtanga, NY.” In 2006, he produced “The World's Best Prom"
Rosenberg’s latest film Welcome to Kutsher’s: The Last Catskills Resort received Best Documentary Audience award at the 2012 Miami Jewish Film Festival. His online fund raising campaign (goal $10,000-$50,000) to acquire the rights to all the archival footage for theatrical release is in progress. I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Award winning documentarian Ian Rosenberg at Lincoln Center, New York, Wednesday, June 20, 2012.
ME: What inspired the making of the documentary film Welcome to Kutsher’s: The Last Catskills Resort?
IR: The inspiration for making the film was a long time in coming. My co-director and producer Caroline Laskow and I are now married with children. In the summer of 2005, when we were dating, Caroline had asked me if I wanted to experience the Catskills resort in New York. Her friend had always gone throughout the years with her family and spoke highly about it. I said, “I would love to go, but we don’t live in the 1960s anymore.” She said, “It’s still surviving!”
Since we both had not experience the Catskills for ourselves, we decided it on a weekend getaway to the Kutshers Country Club, Catskills, New York. We were the only young couple at the resort who were not with multi-generation family group. We had such a great weekend and many amazing encounters. Most Catskills resorts dining room policy entailed sitting at the same dinner table for the duration of your stay at the resort. Ordering our first dinner was really funny to us. The waiter could not understand that we wanted to order one main dish each. When we ordered our first dinner we said, “We’ll have a plate of Lox, Brisket, and Matzo Ball Soup.” The waiter said, “ What else would you like?” We said, “Can we order desert later?” However, the waiter said, “What other main dishes the two of you want?” We said, “Well bring us some Kasha and Fish.” We just could not believe that the Kutsher’s Resort still existed in its full form with great entertainment and all the activities.
In the summer of 2006, we returned with friends (documentarian couple) and they said, “I can’t believe this place still exist. It’s like walking through a moment in time.” We were working on documentary projects at the time; however, we truly felt we had to capture it on film.
ME: Briefly describe the documentary Welcome to Kutsher’s?
IR: The documentary Welcome to Kutsher’s captures the history and experience of the Catskills Jewish resorts, the hey days and contemporary life at Kutsher’s. As we come towards the end of time in history, we believe the Catskills resorts is a way of looking at the Jewish American experience from immigrants not having vacation tradition, to moving to the Catskills for their health, to having luxury hotel experiences where they can feel cosmopolitan and Jewish at the same time. The dining rooms were semi-Kosher, for example, Matzo Ball soup were called Consommé Ontos. The affordability of national and international air travel put an end to the Catskills resorts.
ME: How long did it take to make the film?
IR: The making of the film took approximately five years. In 2007, Caroline arranged to talk with Mrs. Helen Kutsher or one of the Kutsher’s. She called and got through to Kutsher’s CEO Mark Kutsher (Helen’s son). Mark said, “Are you calling because it’s Kutsher’s 100th Anniversary?” We said, “Yes, it’s fate, that’s why we’re calling!” Mark said, “People always call and tell me their going to visit Kutsher’s Resort and film but no one ever does.” We said, “No, we’re really coming!” In the summer of 2007, Mark made it possible for us to begin filming which included the performance of Jewish American standup comedian Freddie Roman. The audience were rolling in the aisles (falling out of their chairs in laughter). Then we took a small leave with the birth of our second child Leo.
In 2011, we went on to finish the film shoot, capturing the closing of Kutsher’s ice-skating rink, in-house catering, and the All Tomorrow’s Music Festival. Our professional crew includes film editor, post-production producer and musician Steven Fuller who became our partner.
ME: What film festivals was the documentary Welcome to Kutsher’s introduced? Did it win awards?
IR: In 2012, Welcome to Kutsher’s has been playing the festival circuit. The world premiere was held at the New York Jewish Film Festival Closing Night. It brought national attention to the Jewish and film communities. We received Best Documentary Audience award at the Miami Jewish Film Festival.
ME: What has been the audience reaction?
IR: The audience reaction has been overwhelming. The 2012 New York Jewish Film Festival world premiere sold out before tickets went on sale to the general public. Tickets to the second screening sold out within hours of them going on sale to the general public. In Miami, we also sold out.
People are incredibly passionate for being able to relive the Catskills experience particularly Kutsher’s through this film and we are the only documentary that has thought to talk about the Catskills experience in full. People have filmed different elements about the Catskills such as the comedians or the dating scene but no one has really done the full Catskills experience the way we did. We felt lucky to do it through the microcosm of truly the most fascinating last family owned Catskills resort Kutshers.
ME: What were the challenges in making the film?
IR: The challenges in making the film were artistic in subject matter and practical. The artistic challenge was to capture people’s meaningful Catskills experience. The only critical audience feedback has been why did you not talk about the sports academy, the camps, or the dance instructors (inspiration behind Dirty Dancing).
We heard of other Catskills projects that started filming or film in progress but didn’t get off the ground. I believe one of the reasons is that the project encompass so many aspects of the Jewish American cultural life and the influence upon American culture in the hotel, sport, and entertainment industries. By focusing on the Kutsher’s experience, we were able to tell the story of a one family institution that would show the whole experience. We know we cannot cover everything but feel good about the story we told.
The practical challenge is raising money. We need to have the rights to all the archival footage for the film to have a broad distribution beyond the festival circuit. We found memorial clips that gave birth to the all-star games such as Wilt Chamberlain playing basketball and as Kutsher’s Bellhop, putting suitcases in a second floor window while standing on the ground floor as well as many other amazing archival footage.
ME: Any interest from film distributors?
IR: Yes, we have gotten great interests from a number of film distributors as well as for theatrical release.
ME: Briefly describe the purpose, the goal, and timeline of the online funding project for the documentary Welcome to Kutshers: The Last Catskill Resort on KickStarter.com (http://kck.st/JJ4vu7)?
IR: We have an online fund raising campaign for Welcome to Kutshers on KickStarter.com (http://kck.st/JJ4vu7) in the documentary category to raise finishing funds to obtain the rights. Kick Starter provide a website where people can browse projects and pledge a donation. Our goal is $10,000. I am happy to say we reached our goal! Unfortunately, it is only a small fraction of the amount of money needed to keep all the clips from the festival cut.
We really want to preserve the Catskills history. We spent a year tracking down these clips in various sources from across the country. In order to keep everything from the festival cut we would need $50,000.
ME: Is there another place where people can donate funds?
IR: Yes, you can donate on KickStarter.com (http://kck.st/JJ4vu7) until Wednesday, June 27, 2012. We would be delighted to receive donations even after the date. We are co-produced by OVO Inc., a not-for-profit organization that receive donations and provide a tax deduction for your donations. You can donate on OVO (http://www.ovoland.com/h_wtkutchers.htm) or by email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you, director Rosenberg.
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