Monday, September 9, 2013

Joshua Safran's "Free Spirit"

Joshua Safran is an attorney, writer, speaker, and occasional rabbi, and was featured in the award-winning documentary Crime After Crime, which premiered at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival and had its television debut as part of the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN)'s Documentary Film Club. He is a nationally recognized champion for women's rights and a zealous advocate for survivors of domestic violence and the wrongfully imprisoned. For his work he has received national media coverage and numerous awards. He lives in Oakland, California.

Here Safran shares some ideas about an adaptation of his new book, Free Spirit: Growing Up On the Road and Off the Grid:
Like most everything I do, I went about writing my first book all backwards. First came the film, then the book. Sort of. The 2011 documentary Crime After Crime profiled my seven-year struggle to free a battered woman from prison. The film premiered at Sundance and had its television debut on the Oprah Winfrey Network. In one scene in Crime After Crime I talk about my own experiences with domestic violence as a kid and how overcoming that adversity led me to devote myself to pro bono work. The film also explores the strength that I draw from my Jewish faith. My book Free Spirit: Growing Up On the Road and Off the Grid is very much a back story to those scenes, telling the story of how my feminist radical mother ended up married to a violent alcoholic guerrilla fighter/shaman/poet, how we survived the years of abuse at his hands, and my unlikely reconnection with my Jewish heritage in the process. The book also brings readers on a journey through my years of hitchhiking across the American west with my mother, chasing her vision of an anarcho-syndicalist utopia, and encountering strange and outlandish characters along the way.

In preparation for my September 10, 2013 book launch, I teamed up with the producer and director of Crime After Crime, Yoav Potash, to create a short Hollywood-style film about the book. We were very fortunate to find an amazing cast and crew and filmed about 50 reenactments from my childhood in August. It was very surreal casting and directing actors to play my childhood-self, but we were blessed to find two child actors – Yonim Schweig and his brother Daniel – who perfectly captured the character and naturally fit the part at different ages. We also found uncannily talented actors who fully inhabited the roles of my mother (Jenn Tripp), stepfather (Xavier Galindo), and "Uncle" Tony (Mario de Alba), as well as a whole galaxy of stellar supporting performers. Our actors' were so talented that I found myself re-experiencing childhood wonder as I watched myself and my mother cuddling with lambs in the back of a pickup truck, and I found it very difficult to watch the domestic violence scenes as my stepfather brutalized my mother all over again.

I believe that using this type of short film to promote a book is the first of its kind and hope that it will allow audiences to connect with the stories and characters from the book at a deeper level. I would love to evolve our short film project into a feature-length movie. I would also love to team up with Jenji Kohan to produce a multi-season television series based on my childhood. She is uniquely qualified since she specializes in showcasing counter-cultural women leads like my mother and shares the same blend of humor and heartbreak that flows through my writing, and she is a master of blending the dark side of the Age of Aquarius with Judaism.
View still images from the Free Spirit short film: showing Young Joshua (Yonim Schweig) how to operate the rifle for the final confrontation with Joshua's stepfather; setting up a reenactment of the 1982 Rainbow Gathering in Idaho with Very Young Joshua (Daniel Schweig), Prophet Gregory (Keith Carlisle), with the real Joshua Safran as an extra and Butterfly (Melita Silberstein) in the background; directing Stepfather Leopoldo (Xavier Galindo) from a sinking paddleboat with Young Joshua (Yonim Schweig) in the foreground. All photos by Jaime Lastimosa.

Learn more about the book and author at Joshua Safran's website.

The Page 99 Test: Free Spirit.

--Marshal Zeringue