Filmmakers

Debora Kodish

produced and co-directed Elaine and Susan Say Goodnight to Mishegas and Eatala: A Life in Klezmer, the latest documentaries from the Philadelphia Folklore Project to focus on ground-breaking women whose arts and lives opened doors for others. Other films include Plenty of Good Women Dancers: African American Women Hoofers from Philadelphia, I Choose To Stay Here, about a community group fighting eminent domain abuse and the takings of their homes, and Look Forward And Carry On The Past, about the cultural traditions of Philadelphia’s Chinatown, Philadelphia’s last remaining community of color in the central city. Kodish is the founding director of the Philadelphia Folklore Project. She has developed the agency’s focus on public interest folklore, and projects that invest in sustaining the folk arts and cultures of Philadelphia communities. Her work has resulted in numerous exhibitions, public programs and publications, as well as opportunities (and more than 3.2 million dollars in funding) for local folk artists and grassroots cultural organizations. Under her leadership, the PFP has worked to document and support projects dealing with diverse vernacular art forms of particular local significance including folk arts of social change, African American social dance, Cambodian folk opera, a variety of women’s folk and traditional arts (for example, African American rhythm tap dance, Yiddish klezmer), and a wide range of immigrant and refugee arts. Before beginning the PFP, Kodish taught folklore in universities and conducted folklife research in a range of settings. She worked in some of the country’s early public folklife programs, doing field research in Oregon and Maine for exhibitions and publications in the 1970s. She received her Ph.D. in Folklore from the University of Texas in 1981. Her recent publications deal with the theory and practice of public interest folklore.

Director’s statement: "Eatala" creates a portrait of an amazing woman. It is the first film on klezmer to focus on both a woman and on what klezmer means as part of a family’s folklore. It offers an alternative history for klezmer, so often described in terms of the revival (on which Elaine had an impact). During the decades when assimilating Jews turned away from klezmer music, and when Jewish bands refused to hire Elaine (no matter how excellent her musicianship) because she was a woman, she simply refused to be silenced. That her children and grandchildren found their own way to love this music is a testimony to Elaine’s spirit and to the power of this music. We feel privileged to have worked with Elaine Watts and her family in creating “Eatala.”