From the Directors
In 1997, we completed our first feature documentary, The Return of Sarah’s Daughters, exploring the tension between tradition and modernity through the eyes of young women choosing a life both foreign and incomprehensible to us—Orthodox Judaism. While we disappointed the film’s subjects by remaining in the secular world, the film ends with the parting question: “Now that I have a child of my own, what will I pass on?” HAVANA CURVEBALL picks up this thread as that child, Mica, now 13, begins his own journey into squaring his tradition and idealism with the realities of contemporary life.
As HAVANA CURVEBALL tracks his growth from high-pitched boy to broad-shouldered young man, the audience has an unusual opportunity: to witness in real time the coming of age project to understand one’s family history while navigating the gap between youthful ideals and the complex, messy reality of the adult world.
It can be daunting to point the camera at your own family. But when we first pressed “record,” we thought we were making a little film about our son’s Bar Mitzvah service project. As the project grew in scope and complication, it became clear that a dramatic and entertaining story was unfolding in front of our lens. We couldn’t help but keep filming. Our unusual daily access made it possible to capture small details—Mica’s first shave, intimate moments with his grandfather, the frustrations and small triumphs of his journey. He was gracious enough to tolerate our filming. We owe a debt of gratitude to him and his grandfather for letting us observe and share their story. We hope it will inspire and provoke.
Marcia Jarmel & Ken Schneider
About The Film
Mica is a classic young teen. Enthusiastic. Idealistic. Dreaming baseball. At 13, he is studying for his Bar Mitzvah, the Jewish coming of age ritual. He takes to heart his Rabbi’s requirement to help “heal the world.” Imagining himself a savior of sorts, he launches a grand plan to send baseballs to less fortunate kids in Latin America. Narrowing his focus, he lights on Cuba, a country with a mysterious pull. He knows only that Cubans lack resources and love baseball like he does. Many of their star players have defected to play in the U.S. professional leagues. He also knows that Cuba gave his grandpa refuge during the Holocaust.
At age seven Grandpa Herb fled Europe with his mother, when his own father was sent to Auschwitz. Boarding the first boat they found, they fled to Cuba. When Pearl Harbor was bombed, the US sealed its borders, waylaying their plans to join relatives in New York. Stranded in Cuba, they were lucky that theirs was not the fate of the infamous ship, the St. Louis, which had been forced back to Nazi Europe. Instead Cuba offered refuge, and Herb spent the early 1940s in Havana, while his Viennese playmates and his father were killed. Late in 1943, Herb and his mother were granted visas and found their way to New York. Nearly 70 years later, Mica feels a need to repay the debt. Enthusiastically collecting bats, mitts and balls, he never considers that his good intentions might not be enough.
HAVANA CURVEBALL affords the unusual pleasure of observing a child growing up, both physically and psychically. As Mica shifts from high-pitched boy to broad-shouldered young man, he squares off against the complexity of the adult world. The simple act of giving, which drove his idealism at age 13, seems elusive at 14 and 15. Facing the obstacles the U.S. embargo throws in his way, he must decide how far to follow his dream. Researching, writing letters, imploring his senator, meeting Cuba activists and an attorney, trying to make sense of a high school history lecture and his grandpa’s own resistance, he wonders if the whole enterprise is even possible, let alone worth it.
After two years, he finally boards a plane to Havana with his family, 200 pounds of baseball gear, and all the rhetoric, expectations, and worries of family, friends, and history in tow. Imagining he is finally in the home stretch, his experience there is transformative, confronting him with the question, “does what I do matter?”