Tree of Life shooting survivors stories told in documentary


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Filmmaker Trish Adlesic was in Pittsburgh celebrating her father’s 91st birthday on October 25, 2018. Two days later, a gunman walked into the nearby Tree of Life synagogue and killed 11 people in the deadliest antisemitic attack in U.S. history.

“It shook me to my core,” said Adlesic, who grew up 10 minutes away from the synagogue. “I was heartbroken.”

The “Gasland” filmmaker had been living in New York with her family, but after the shooting decided to come back to Pittsburgh to “get to work.” She’d stay there for the next three years, cultivating relationships with the survivors and families of the victims to make a film, “A Tree of Life: The Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting,” which is currently streaming on HBO Max.

Adlesic was wary of giving the story the “true crime” treatment, though. She’d been through trauma training and wanted to be sensitive with the subjects, who opened their homes to her and told her their stories.

“I wanted to really give agency to the family members and to the survivors to tell it the way they wanted,” she said. “I was most interested in what they had to say and what we could learn from it. I really believed in weaving their voices together by asking them all the same questions. And I knew there would be a variety of responses because not everybody feels the same way about every subject that we’re addressing in the film.”

The film has taken on an even greater significance in recent months, amid growing incidents of antisemitism in the United States and beyond. The Anti-Defamation League recorded 2,717 incidents of harassment, vandalism or violence targeting Jews in 2021 — the highest annual total since it began tracking these incidents in 1979.

The Daily Beast’s critic Nick Schager called it “the documentary Kanye West needs to see.” Ye, the rap superstar formerly known as Kanye West, drew widespread condemnation and lost business relationships after he voiced antisemitic stereotypes in interviews and social media, including a tweet that he would soon go “death con 3 on JEWISH PEOPLE.”

“To be approaching 2023 and to see the alarming rate of antisemitic tropes and statements being made, it’s just hard to believe,” she said. “We have to look at what’s going on and why this is happening. As Rabbi Jeffrey Myers says in the film: It starts with antisemitism. It’s the moral decay of humanity and it branches out to every group who is affected by discrimination and identity based violence. And we need to intervene. We need to be attentive and vigilant. The only way that I felt we could approach it is by really hearing from those that have lived through this.”

To help get the film over the finish line, Adlesic reached out to several prominent Pittsburgh natives, like Michael Keaton, to see if they might be able to help. Keaton, Mark Cuban a…

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