Aviva Kempner

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Aviva Kempner
Aviva Kempner.jpg
Born December 23, 1946
Berlin, Germany

Aviva Kempner (born December 23, 1946) is an American filmmaker. Her documentaries investigate non-stereotypical images of Jews in history and focus on the untold stories of Jewish heroes. She is most well known for The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg.

Life and career[edit]

Kempner was born in Berlin, Germany, the daughter of a Holocaust survivor and a U.S. Army officer. She moved to Michigan with her parents and graduated from the University of Michigan. She now lives in Washington, D.C., where she plays an active role in the artist and film community. She started the Washington Jewish Film Festival in 1989. She attended the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, McDowell and Yaddo artist colonies in 2002–2004. She is also the member of International Film And Television Club of Asian Academy of Film & Television, Noida Film City, India.

In 1981, Kempner founded The Ciesla Foundation to promote educational materials relating to the Holocaust and Jewish resistance to it. Since then, the foundation has expanded its mission to produce and distribute films to educate the public on general social issues of the past and present. Kempner's films are produced under the auspices of Ciesla. In 1986, Kempner conceived and produced Partisans of Vilna, a documentary on Jewish resistance against the Nazis. Additionally, she was the executive producer of the 1989 Grammy Award-nominated record Partisans of Vilna: The Songs of World War II Jewish Resistance.

She is the scriptwriter, director and producer of The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg, a film about the Jewish slugger who fought anti-Semitism in the 1930s and 1940s. It was awarded top honors by the National Society of Film Critics, the National Board of Review, the New York Film Critics Circle, and the Broadcast Film Critics Association. The film received a George Peabody Award and was nominated for an Emmy. An updated DVD of the film containing over two hours of extras came out in 2013.

In 2009, she released Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg, a 90-minute documentary on Gertrude Berg, one of America's favorite radio and television personalities. Berg was the creator, principal writer, and star of the popular 1930s radio show and then the 1950s weekly televised situation comedy, The Goldbergs.

Her most recent film Rosenwald, a documentary describing how businessman and philanthropist Julius Rosenwald joined with African-American communities in the South to build schools for them during the early 20th century. Rosenwald was released in August of 2015 and is currently playing across the US.

She is also co-writing and producing Casuse, the story of Larry Casuse, a young Native American activist who kidnapped the Mayor of Gallup, New Mexico to draw attention to the plight of the Navajho people and to expose the hypocrisy of the establishment.

In 2016, she will begin work on a new documentary about the baseball player and spy, Moe Berg, to be released in 2017.


Kempner is a recipient of the following awards, grants, and fellowships:

  • 2008 National Endowment for the Arts
  • 2001 Women of Vision award from D.C.'s Women in Film and Video chapter
  • 2001 Media Arts award from the National Foundation for Jewish Culture
  • 2000 DC Mayor's Art Award.
  • 1996 Guggenheim Fellowship
  • 1995 Individual Artist Grants from the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, National Endowment for the Arts
  • 1993 NEA Mid-Atlantic Region Media Arts Fellowship
  • 1992 NEA Mid-Atlantic Region Media Arts Fellowship
  • 1991 Individual Artist Grants from the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, National Endowment for the Arts
  • 1990 Individual Artist Grants from the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, National Endowment for the Arts
  • 1988 Individual Artist Grants from the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, National Endowment for the Arts
  • 1987 NEA Mid-Atlantic Region Media Arts Fellowship

Additionally, her films have received grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and state humanities boards.


Kempner writes film criticism and feature articles for numerous publications, including The Boston Globe,The Wrap, The Forward, Washington Jewish Week, and The Washington Post. She also lectures about cinema throughout the country. She wrote chapters for the books, Daughters of Absence, What Israel Means to Me, Jews and American Popular Culture, and God, Faith & Identity from the Ashes: Reflections of Children and Grandchildren of Holocaust Survivors. She has served on the board of CINE, DC VOTE, Forum for the Psychoanalytical Study of Film, District of Columbia Jewish Community Center, and Women in Film and Video.[1]



External links[edit]