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Letters from Bessarabia

A journey to Romania and Bessarabia, homeland of the director's Jewish grandparents, who fled to the New World due to pre-World War II antisemitism. Being eligible to Romanian citizenship, she asks: what makes one part of a country and a nationality? How do minorities live together - or side by side - in that part of the world? And how can she, being Brazilian and a Jew, relate to this patchwork of ethnicities?

  • Leila Sterenberg
  • Leila Sterenberg
  • Renata Baldi
  • Marion Lemmonier
    Original Soundtrack
  • Fernando Klabin
    Executive Producer
  • Reynaldo Zangrandi
    Cinematographer and Main Camera
  • Martha Sampaio
  • Edson Vander
    Audio Mastering
  • Project Title (Original Language):
    Cartas da Bessarabia
  • Project Type:
  • Runtime:
    1 hour 10 minutes 30 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    November 4, 2016
  • Production Budget:
    100,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
  • Country of Filming:
    Brazil, Moldova, Republic of, Romania
  • Language:
  • Shooting Format:
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
  • Midrash Cultural Center
    Rio de Janeiro
    November 1, 2016
    Brazilian Premiere
  • Hebraica Club
    São Paulo
    November 27, 2016
  • Unibes Cultural Center
    São Paulo
    November 28, 2016
Distribution Information
  • Philos.tv
    Country: Brazil
    Rights: All Rights
Director Biography - Leila Sterenberg

Leila Sterenberg was born in Rio de Janeiro, the first daughter of architects Cleia and Max. Cleia stems from two Brazilian families with Portuguese roots; Max is the first Brazilian-born son of a Jewish couple who emigrated from Bessarabia – today’s Moldova, formerly part of Romania – in the 1930s. Leila became a Journalist in the early 90s and lived for two years in New York, where she worked as a freelance-reporter for Brazilian printed media, before being hired by Bloomberg to do radio and television as their first Portuguese native speaker. Back in Brazil, she joined Globo, the largest media group in the country. For two years she was editor-in-chief and anchor of the local broadcast news in Brasilia, Brazil’s capital, and since 2000 has been working for GloboNews, Globo’s 24-hour news channel. She has been working as anchor and on-air reporter, hosting several shows, such as Clube dos Correspondentes (Correspondents’ Club), a talk show with foreign journalists based in Brazil. She has also developed many special projects, including Um Século de Arquitetura (A Century of Architechture, celebrating the 100th birthday of Oscar Niemeyer in 2007), Além da Guerra (Beyond the War, a series of interviews with Holocaust survivors who settled in Brazil) and Expedição Namíbia (Namibia Expedition, about the first genocide of the 20th century, perpetrated by colonial Germany). Cartas da Bessarábia (Letters from Bessarabia, produced by Globo’s Philos.tv, a video on demand channel) is her first documentary film. Leila lives in Rio with her husband and two daughters, Laura and Elisa.

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Director Statement

When your grandparents come from a faraway place, a place with an exotic name that throughout History belonged to different empires, it naturally arouses your curiosity. Moreover, if no one in your family has ever been there, since your ancestors left, leaving behind sad memories, the traumas of poverty and antisemitism, but also landscapes, tastes, smells, sounds, songs – documents, postcards and letters being the only concrete remnants of the past, which became distant time-wise and geographically as well. Once I am a journalist, working as a TV reporter, and having put together stories in different parts of Brazil, Europe and Africa, it was more than natural to have this idea: I have to go there and I have to film it.

This desire only grew when I found out that I could apply for Romanian citizenship. Romanian? My father’s parents never felt “Romanian”. They were Jews. Russian Jews. Who, having not much choice, ended up in Brazil. So how can I relate to this place I can somehow be connected with? What does it mean to “be part” of this country, a country (Romania) the region my family comes from (Bessarabia), once belonged to? And how do the many nationalities who live in that poor and apparently forgotten part of the world see themselves, regarding their land, their traditions and their perspectives?

One more issue: do today’s “Bessarabians” (actually Moldovans, citizens of the Republic of Moldova) see themselves as “Romanians”? Some do. Some don’t. And regardless of their feelings, some would do almost anything to have a Romanian passport and emigrate to just any country of the European Union seeking a better life – not much differently from what my grandparents did. Seeking to survive. Seeking, like thousands of immigrants and refugees from Africa and the Middle East, the European dream.

What I found, besides unbelievably beautiful places and unforgettable experiences, was: people in love. In love with Romania and even Moldova, the poorest country in Europe – a place whose 1/3 of the economically active population works abroad. In love with their Saxon, Hungarian or Armenian heritages. In love with their Jewish roots and their Roma traditions. I found pride. And prejudice – like the prejudice that made my grandmother’s house to be looted and made her have to escape, with her teenage sons, my uncles, months before the nightmare of WW II. Ultimately, I found thriving human beings, who despite so many political and economic obstacles (of the past and present times), and despite living in the periphery of the Western civilization – not unlike Brazil, I should say – are managing to dream and go ahead. And, yes, at the end of the day, I do feel related to it and I can, in a very singular way, love that corner of our small planet.