Finding Babel Director David Novack - Cinema Village
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Finding Babel Director David Novack

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David Novack


David Novack is the director, and a writer/producer ofFinding Babel.Prior to his work with Finding Babel, Mr. Novack wrote, produced and directed the film Burning the Future: Coal inAmerica, which opened in theaters, aired on international television, and won awards at numerous festivals in the US and Europe including the prestigious IDA Pare Lorentz award for social documentary filmmaking. Mr. Novack toured with Burning the Future to China and Ukraine with the American Documentary Showcase, sponsored by the US Department of State. With the program, Mr. Novack lectured extensively at universities and film festivals and was profiled in magazines and television programs. Mr. Novack produced Kimjongilia, a documentary about N. Korean refugees that premiered atthe 2009 Sundance Film Festival and enjoyed a theatrical run at the International Documentary Association’s Docuweeks Theatrical Showcase. Kimjongilia aired in the US and abroad. The film won the 2010 best human rights documentary award from the One World Brussels Film Fest of the Human Rights and Democracy Network. In audio post production, Mr. Novack has enjoyed a successful career as a re-recording mixer/sound designer, recently adding a major new opera by Roger Waters to his credits. Mr. Novack received an engineering degree from the University of Pennsylvania, and a degree inmusic from Berklee College of Music. In additional to making films, Mr. Novack is a Professor ofFilm at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Design where heenjoys mentoring a newgeneration of filmmakers.



Director’s Statement  

75 years ago, Isaac Babel, one of the Soviet Union’s greatest writers, was unceremoniously executed in a cold cell in Moscow’s Butyrka prison. He was 45 years old.   Babel was thrust upon the international stage with his series Red Cavalry, a bold war narrative framed in ambiguous and very human terms. One of the most lasting impressions ofRed Cavalryis the juxtaposition of Cossack camaraderie against the brutality of rape and violence inflicted upon Ukrainian and Jewish populations.This was followed by Babel’s Odessa Stories, where Babel flirts with the darker and lighter sides of human nature in a tragic-comic depiction of Odessa’s Jewish mob.For many decades, virtually every Soviet was raised on these satirical sketches of men in power and their subservient underlings, a social satire that was not lost onthe Kremlin.Babel published many other short stories, screenplays, and stage plays that examined Soviet society with a critical eye.He was arrested in 1939, joining the ranks of well over a million people swooped upby Stalin’s political, cultural and religious purges. The impulse of artists under totalitarianism is difficult for many ofusto comprehend, but fundamentally, they bear witness to atrocity. Babel, took it one step further: he witnessed not so much with pointed blame, but rather with an eye to the textures and ambiguities of war and human nature. His Cossacks are both brutal and heroic. His mobsters are likeable, yet deadly.And his literary reflections on the communist revolution are deeply nuanced, exhibiting both heroic ideals and frightening skepticism. Finding Babelseeks to shed light on the enigmatic Isaac Babel, not by providing a journal of his life, but rather by capturing the essence of the man and the writer.Babel painted his literary canvas with overlapping lines of fact and fiction.As a filmmaker, my goal has been tointerweave historical fact and Babel’s fiction in a way that resonates with Babel’s poetic prose.My use of animation created from vérité footage, the interweaving of stories with diary and archival material, and the unfolding narrative of the journey of Babel’s grandson – these leave us with a sense of the man, his writing and history that defies didactic documentary storytelling and compels the viewer to read Babel; for this is the only way to get as close as possible to his truth. Upon Babel’s arrest, 24 folders of unpublished works were confiscated. There isno record oftheir destruction, only an indication that they were signed out to a higher authority. Itismy hope that renewed exposure from Finding Babelwill result in the discovery of these manuscripts. Itisasif they have been waiting for this historical moment to surface.Inan age where conflict hasonce again arisen in the battle-torn lands of Ukraine, where journalists are executed in a Paris office or beheaded in the Syrian Desert, where artists and writers face threats, arrest or even torture in countless authoritarian nations – Babel’s pen draws a line of continuity through history. It reminds usof the danger of unlimited power and the suffering of the common person inany conflict.