Jack and Sam

Filmmaker Q&A with Director Jordan Horowitz

Is there a particular documentary film or filmmaker that had a major influence on your career?

Hoop Dreams.

What motivated you to make this film?

My motivation to create “Jack and Sam” was driven by two primary factors. Firstly, I was deeply moved by the incredible story of friendship between two individuals who, having lived through one of the most horrific periods in human history, have maintained their bond for over 80 years. This enduring connection not only symbolizes the resilience and strength of the human spirit but has also imbued these two individuals with a renewed sense of purpose as they navigate the twilight of their lives.

Secondly, I felt an urgent need to address the alarming escalation of antisemitism that was becoming increasingly visible. This resurgence, marked by events such as the Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, widespread vandalism against Jewish businesses and schools, and a noticeable increase in antisemitic rhetoric on social media, was deeply concerning. It was my intention to utilize “Jack and Sam” as more than just a film; I envisioned it as a platform to initiate and contribute to a broader conversation about this troubling rise in antisemitism. By doing so, I hoped to not only tell a story of enduring friendship but also to shine a light on a significant and pressing social issue.

Please tell us what camera(s) you shot with primarily – and any other special equipment that you used and why you used it: 

We shot on a Canon 70 with Zeiss prime lenses, because we needed a camera that was small and unobtrusive, yet could still capture fantastic images.

Please tell us about any special styles or techniques that you used during the production of your film to help tell your story: 

One of the techniques I incorporated was the use of animation to vividly convey the experiences of the characters, such as Jack’s harrowing escape from the camp. This technique was integral in transporting the audience directly into the characters’ minds, allowing them to intimately experience the intense emotions and events as they occurred, rather than merely hearing about them retrospectively through interviews.

This style of animation was deliberately stark, characterized by sharp, jagged lines and rendered in black and white. This choice was not only aesthetically impactful but also served to effectively communicate the gravity and horror of the situations being depicted. The audience is taken through a range of deeply emotional experiences – from the claustrophobic fear of being trapped in a cattle car, the terror of being hunted and shot at by Nazis during the escape, to the profound relief and joy of simple acts like finding water in the forest or realizing the safety of a shower instead of a gas chamber.

By adopting this technique, I aimed to create a more engaging and empathetic understanding of the characters’ journeys, highlighting both the horrors they endured and their indomitable spirit.

How did your story evolve from day one, to the very last day in post? Is your story what you thought it would be? 

During the editing process of this film, we continued to witness an ever-increasing rise in antisemitism, hatred, and division. These events prompted Jack and Sam to begin speaking at schools about these dangers and led me to reconsider the scope and message of the film I was telling, and to expand the story beyond what was originally planned. I decided to revisit the production phase to include these new engagements.

Incorporating these scenes provided a direct link between the historical narrative of the film and the current climate we were witnessing, bringing an added depth and urgency to the film’s message. It allowed the film to not just be a reflection on the past but a pertinent commentary on the present, aligning with my original intention to use this film as a platform for driving the conversation about the current state of our world.

Please describe the most rewarding experience you had while making this film: 

One of the most rewarding aspects of creating “Jack and Sam” was the opportunity to witness firsthand the extraordinary friendship between these two remarkable individuals. Watching them share stories, laugh, and inspire each other was incredibly moving. It was not just about recounting their harrowing past but also about celebrating their present moments and looking forward to the future. They exchanged photographs of their families, reflecting on the lives they had built, and the legacy they hoped to leave behind. Their conversations often ventured beyond their shared history, touching on their aspirations and dreams, even in their twilight years.

However, the pinnacle of this experience actually came after the film was finished, during a screening we had in Florida that was attended by over 400 people, many of whom were students. Sam was not in good health – he had been in and out of hospitals and unfortunately passed away not long after, but that night he was full of energy. Witnessing him and Jack experience the film with such a large audience and then engaging in a dialogue onstage was beyond magical.

In fact, Jack actually told the crowd that making this film was the most important thing he did in his entire life, because it finally helped him overcome the survivor’s guilt he’d been carrying all these years and gave him a renewed sense of purpose. That night was by far the most rewarding experience of my career.

What advice can you give to other impact filmmakers?

I believe you should focus on telling stories that resonate most deeply with you. “Jack and Sam” is, by far, the most personal film I’ve made. I created it purely out of love, without any regard for how it might be received. Yet, it has arguably garnered more attention than any other project I’ve undertaken. This goes to show that when you do something you’re truly passionate about, the audience will feel that and it will resonate just as strongly with them.

What’s your favorite part about the filmmaking process and why?

My favorite aspect of the filmmaking process is getting to collaborate with a diverse team of creatives to achieve a shared vision. On “Jack and Sam,” the cinematographer and I worked closely to design the look and feel of the film, setting the tone and atmosphere that will envelop the audience. My animator and I worked to craft visceral sequences that transported the viewer directly into the mind of the protagonist. My editor and I meticulously pored over every frame, constantly refining and shaping the narrative to tell the most compelling story in the most succinct and impactful way. And finally, my composer and I focused on evoking the audience’s empathy, guiding their emotional journey through the film, and providing a sense of catharsis during key moments, such as the protagonists’ reunion during the dinner scene.

What’s the one item you always take with you when working out in the field and why?

As a filmmaker, I often find myself in remote areas where I have to stand in one spot for extended periods. This can be quite taxing on my knees and joints. That’s why my indispensable field item is a collapsible folding stool. This nifty gadget has been a game-changer for me. It’s lightweight, easily fits in a backpack, and provides a much-needed respite for my legs and knees during long shoots. I’ve found that it not only helps me physically but also keeps me focused on my work for longer periods. It’s a simple tool, but its impact on my fieldwork has been profound.

Interestingly, this stool has caught the attention of many colleagues and crew members on almost every shoot I’ve been on, many of whom have ended up buying their own. Here’s a link if you’d like to see for yourself – https://www.amazon.com/Portable-Retractable-Telescoping-Adjustable-Gardening/dp/B08697LCY4?th=1.

Please share a personal story about your experience making this film:

I had never worked with an animator before and needed someone with a very particular style. It had to be mature and distinct, characterized by rough, jagged lines, far from anything cartoonish. This led me on an exhaustive search, where I spent hundreds of hours on YouTube, looking at every animated film I could find.

This eventually led me to an animator in New Zealand. When I reached out to him, his first question was how I found him, but I had gone down such a deep rabbit hole that I couldn’t even recall how that had happened.

Unfortunately, he told me he no longer worked on other people’s films and was only focusing on his own, but he still asked to see a rough cut. I sent him a 20-minute rough cut, and he literally called me back 25 minutes later, emphatically saying, “We’re doing this,” because of how moved he was by the story.

It just goes to show that the right collaborators are always out there; sometimes, you just have to turn over every leaf to find them.

Can you describe any obstacles you encountered in making your film and/or in your distribution/exhibition efforts?

“Jack and Sam” has enjoyed a wonderful film festival run and received considerable attention, but if I’m being completely honest, there have been some very disheartening revelations as far as exhibition and distribution are concerned.

During our Academy Awards campaign, our PR rep was told explicitly by several members of the Academy that although they had not seen the film, they would not consider voting for it solely because of its Jewish subject matter. We’ve heard similar things from distributors and festival programmers, who are either afraid of upsetting their progressive audience or have their own personal biases towards Jewish subject matter.

I find this revelation particularly distressful. Our film is in no way political; it doesn’t address contemporary geopolitical issues or take a side with regards to the situation in the Middle East. The sole connection to these topics is the Jewish identity of its protagonists, and frankly, to dismiss it out of hand without even watching it is not only discriminatory but fundamentally goes against the values that I hold most dear in my life. At its core, this film is about celebrating two individuals who have survived unimaginable horrors, and gone on to not only find immense success but have brought joy and happiness to countless others, and frankly, they deserve to be given the same considerations as anyone else.

What do you want audiences to take away from this video?

My hope is that, with everything going on in the world, audiences will leave “Jack and Sam” with a deeper understanding of the past and a greater appreciation for the human capacity for resilience. Moreover, I hope the film inspires a dialogue about empathy and understanding. Lastly, I wish for audiences to reflect on the impact of hatred and division and the importance of combating it.

Please list key points that should be covered in a post-screening discussion: 

I think a post-screening discussion should focus on the following:

The impact of hatred and division, both in the past and how it relates to contemporary society, with levels of division and hatred arguably being higher than at almost any other time in American history prior to the Civil War. Additionally, how the divisive rhetoric from politicians and social media is further fanning the flames of discord.

The alarming rise in antisemitism all over the world, highlighting its triggering effect on past trauma within Jewish communities.

The immense survivor’s guilt that many survivors of the Holocaust, and those who have endured major traumatic events like wars, carry with them daily, and how we can extend empathy and understanding to these individuals.

The incredible healing power of friendship, and how it can help to heal even the darkest of traumas.

Please provide information on any recent developments regarding the issue or subjects of the video. How have things changed or not changed?

Sadly, one of our main subjects, Sam Ron, passed away a few months ago at the age of 99. While his loss is deeply felt, we find comfort in knowing that his legacy will endure through this film, ensuring that his story continues to be told and inspire future generations.

In terms of the broader issue the film addresses, the rise in antisemitic attacks in the US has been a concerning development. According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), there has been a 360% increase in antisemitic incidents since the Hamas attacks. This escalation has deeply affected Jack, who expresses grave concern over this trend. He feels that the current sentiment echoes the atmosphere of the 1930s. These recent developments only underscore the relevance and urgency of the film’s message, highlighting the ongoing struggle against antisemitism and the importance of remembrance and education.

What opportunities are available for those interested in getting further involved?

Our film is available to screen at schools, universities, museums, and all places of worship. If you would like to host a screening please email us [email protected].

Please provide any additional resources (websites, links to additional videos, forms, articles, etc.):

To continue following me on my filmmaking journey, please follow me on Instagram or Facebook @jordansfilms, or my website- www.jordansfilms.com. 

If you have experienced or witnessed an incident of antisemitism, extremism, bias, bigotry or hate, please go here to report it- https://www.adl.org/report-antisemitic-bias-or-discriminatory-incident


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