The Genesis of the film “Fioretta”, By Randol Schoenberg
“The film Fioretta was an idea of my cousin Serena Nono in Venice, who is also an artist and filmmaker, see https://www.serenanono.com/biography/biography/?lang=en. I was telling Serena that my genealogical research had extended all the way back, via Vienna and Prague, to a family that lived in the Jewish ghetto in Venice at the time of its founding 500 years ago. Serena thought we could make a documentary film, and when I mentioned the idea to my friends the producer Brad Schlei and director Matthew Mishory in Los Angeles (see https://www.rubberringfilms.com/our-team), they agreed. The film itself is a journey that I took with my teenage son Joey, who somewhat reluctantly accompanied me as we traced our family history, from my grandfather, the well-known composer Arnold Schoenberg, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arnold_Schoenberg, to his mother Pauline from Prague and beyond. Along the way we met a great many strange and fascinating people who helped us uncover the traces that my family left behind over the centuries. The documentary is as much about my relationships with these various characters, and my relationship with my son, as it is about the genealogical journey.
I have been an avid genealogist and family historian since I was a little kid. Like most people, I had a school assignment to make a family tree. Luckily, there was a genealogical article published around the time of my paternal grandfather Arnold Schoenberg’s centennial in 1974, which traced his ancestry back to the 18th century, and my maternal grandmother Gertrud Zeisl was able to remember a great number of people from my mother’s side of the family. I returned to school with a huge family tree, far more than the typical grade school effort. By the time I was 11 years old, I had compiled a truly enormous tree, laid out on four poster boards, with over three hundred people on it. My parents put it on display on the stairway wall, so it was constantly in view as I grew up.
In the decades since that time, I was able to make more progress on the family tree. I travelled to Vienna and Prague and visited archives where I did further research. At the same time, I was able to find more distant cousins, and in 1996 we even organized a large family reunion in Vienna with all branches of my extended family. The Internet helped me extend my research and find other genealogists who helped expand my horizons. Over the past twenty years I have become very involved in the larger genealogical community, as a board member of JewishGen.org, the Internet hub for Jewish genealogy, as the founder of the Jewish Genealogy Portal, the largest Facebook group for Jewish genealogy with 63,000 members, and as a volunteer curator and contributor on Geni.com, a collaborative genealogy website with millions of users building a united family tree of the world.
Fioretta focuses on just one, extremely rich and interesting ancestral line that now traces back 500 years all the way to the origin of the famous Jewish ghetto in Venice, where Jews were forced to live inside gates that were locked in the evening. We were very fortunate that at each generation we could find a document, a gravestone, a book, or other artifact that gave us a specific insight into the family. In the film we visit and find these remnants, guided by many of the genealogy friends I have made over the years. These friends include Achab Haidler, a Bohemian actor who spends his free time photographing and transcribing Jewish gravestones in the Czech countryside; Georg Gaugusch, the proprietor of Vienna’s finest men’s clothing store, who has spent the past twenty years compiling an encyclopedic work on the wealthy Jewish families that were, before the war, clients of his business; Barbara Kintaert, a Belgian woman living in Vienna who has memorialized the Jewish families that once lived in her building and on her street; Julius Müller, a Czech genealogist who started helping people discover their Jewish roots after he discovered his own; Chiara Petrolina, an Italian scholar studying the ancient Jewish books housed by the Austrian National Library; Aldo Izzo, a 92-year old Italian survivor who still rides his bike to give tours of the old Jewish cemetery on the Lido; and Fabrizio Lelli, a Florentine professor whose scholarship focuses on the family of the film’s namesake Fioretta, and especially her husband, a rabbi commissioned by King Henry VIII to provide an opinion on his marriage to Catherine of Aragon who also drafted an enormous kabbalistic manuscript inspired by a false messiah who was burned at the stake.
The film tells the stories of my ancestors through the people we meet who provide us the evidence and the insight into our history, as well as our present. The atmosphere of the locations was spectacular, not only in the cities — Vienna, Prague, Florence, and Venice — but also the less well-known locales, such as the small village near Theresienstadt or the medieval castle on the border of Hungary. Music and art permeate the film, culminating in an exhibit in the Venice ghetto of inspired portraits of our ancestors created by my cousin Serena Nono and her husband Nicola Golea. Most touching is the effect of the trip on my teenage son Joey, who comes to understand a bit about his history and himself.
Although this is the first documentary I have helped create, I have had some previous experience with films. As an attorney I handled the famous case concerning the recovery of the Klimt paintings from Austria, which was portrayed in the very successful 2015 film Woman in Gold with Helen Mirren and Ryan Reynolds. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt2404425/. See also https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E._Randol_Schoenberg. The genealogical feat of tracing back, with evidence, a Jewish family line 500 years old is about as rare an achievement as the recovery of Nazi-looted paintings. But what makes Fioretta special is that the director, Matthew Mishory, found a way to explore the uniquely deep and extensive genealogy in a universally appealing and entertaining manner. The viewers do not need to be aware of, or even particularly interested in, genealogy or the history of Jews in Central Europe in order to enjoy the film, because it is really about the people we meet and their stories, as much as it is about my ancestors (who also happen to be quite interesting, I must say).
My hope for the film is that it inspires people to explore their own family history, as I did, in order to learn a little something about themselves. It sometimes seems trite to say the past informs the present, but Fioretta demonstrates the truth of that sentiment. In a world where people continue to create art and music and explore big ideas, often in spite of the challenges of persecution and dislocation, it helps to know that what we do can have lasting value, and can be rediscovered, even centuries later, to educate, inspire and motivate new generations to find and express themselves.”
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History-obsessed Randy Schoenberg (memorably portrayed by Ryan Reynolds in Woman in Gold) brings his reluctant teenage son Joey along for the journey of a lifetime, through Europe and the centuries, to reclaim 500 years of their family story. Along the way, they encounter kings, mystics, and a false messiah — as well as numerous ordinary and extraordinary people who witnessed Europe’s tumultuous past. And the relationship between father and son is forever changed. Randy is renowned for recovering Nazi-looted art, but his greatest achievement might just be reuniting the fractured and scattered shards of his own family. Filmed on location across Austria, Czech Republic, and Italy, Fioretta is “a meditative and intensely visual exploration…[filmmaker] Matthew Mishory reveals what history hides.” – Film Threat
E. Randol Schoenberg
E. Randol Schoenberg Biography
E. Randol “Randy” Schoenberg, the grandson of the composers Arnold Schoenberg and Eric Zeisl and the winner of numerous awards in the field of litigation, was the co-founding partner of Burris, Schoenberg & Walden, LLP. There, he handled several complex business litigation matters, specializing in cases involving looted art and the recovery of property stolen by the Nazi authorities during the Holocaust. Among his most prominent cases is that of “Republic of Austria v. Altmann” which resulted in the successful return of five paintings by Gustav Klimt, including the “Woman in Gold,” to their rightful owner, Maria Altmann.
In 2007, Mr. Schoenberg received the California Lawyer Attorney of the Year award for outstanding achievement in the field of litigation. He also received the 2006 Jurisprudence Award from the Anti-Defamation League and the Justice Louis D. Brandeis Award from the American Jewish Congress.
Randy served as president of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust from 2005 to 2015, during which time the museum constructed its new building in Pan Pacific Park. Mr. Schoenberg led the redesign of the permanent exhibit for the new museum. In 2013, he served as acting executive director while the Museum conducted a search for its new executive director
Schoenberg graduated from Princeton University with a Bachelor of Arts in Mathematics in 1988 and a certificate in European Cultural Studies. In 1991, he received his Juris Doctor degree from the University of Southern California.
His interests include classical music, tennis, skiing, genealogy, art, basketball, law, mathematics, backpacking, philately, German, French, and computers. He serves on the board of the Los Angeles Opera, the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, Sinai Akiba Academy, Southwest Chamber Music Society, JewishGen, Choral Society of Southern California, and the L.A. Jewish Symphony.
In addition to his tireless advocacy, Randy is an expert genealogy researcher, having been an avid genealogist since he was 8 years old. He works as a volunteer curator of Geni.com, where he focuses on the family trees of Holocaust Survivors and their families;maintains a huge family tree both on JewishGen and Geni; is the Co-Founder, Coordinator and Moderator for the JewishGen Austria-Czech Special Interest Group http://www.jewishgen.org/austriaczech/ ; and is the author of The Beginner’s Guide to Austrian-Jewish Genealogy http://www.jewishgen.org/austriaczech/ausguide.htm and the co-author of Getting Started with Czech-Jewish Genealogy http://www.jewishgen.org/austriaczech/czechguide.html .
Randol holds close personal ties to the Holocaust: all four of his grandparents escaped from Nazi Germany in World War II. Both of Randy’s grandfathers composed pieces in response to the tragedy of the Holocaust. Arnold Schoenberg wrote the piece, A Survivor from Warsaw (1947), while Eric Zeisl composed Requiem Ebraico (Hebrew Requiem) (1945). Randy and his wife Pamela Mayers Schoenberg have three children: Dora, Nathan, and Joey.