Aviva Kempner

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Aviva Kempner
Aviva Kempner.jpg
BornDecember 23, 1946
Alma materUniversity of Michigan

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 people. She is most well known for The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg.

Life and career[edit]

A child of Holocaust survivor Helen Ciesla and Harold Kempner, a US Army officer, Kempner was born in Berlin, Germany after World War II. Her family history inspired her to conceive and produce her first documentary, Partisans of Vilna (1986). Kempner lives in Washington, DC where she plays a prominent role in the artist and film community.She is also an activist for voting rights for the District of Columbia.

She was a member of the Class of 1976 at the progressive Antioch School of Law.[1] In 1981, Kempner founded The Ciesla Foundation to produce films that investigate non-stereotypical images of Jews in history and celebrate the untold stories of Jewish heroes. In 1986, Kempner conceived and produced Partisans of Vilna, a documentary on Jewish resistance against the Nazis. She founded the Washington Jewish Film Festival in 1989.

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 first Jewish baseball star in the Major Leagues. Facing anti-Semitism in the ’30s and ’40s, Greenberg welcomed Jackie Robinson in his debut in 1947. The documentary was awarded Audience Awards at the Hamptons International Film Festival and Washington Jewish Film Festival; Spirit Award for Best Sports Documentary, International Sports Video and Film Awards; top honors from the National Society of Film Critics, the National Board of Review, the New York Film Critics Circle and Broadcast Film Critics Association. It also won a CINE Golden Eagle and George Peabody Award.

Kempner directed Today I Vote For My Joey, a short tragic comedy of the 2000 Presidential Elections in Palm Beach County.

In 2009 she produced Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg, a 90-minute documentary about Gertrude Berg, a popular American radio and television personalities who received the first Best Actress Emmy in history and paved the way for women in media and entertainment. Berg was the creator, principal writer, and star of the popular 1930s radio show and then the 1950s weekly televised situation comedy, The Goldbergs. Yoo-Hoo, Mrs. Goldberg won a CINE Golden Eagle and festival audience awards and Women's Film Critics Circle posthumous Lifetime Achievement Award winner for Gertrude Berg.

Kempner made Rosenwald, (2015) a feature-length historical documentary about businessman and philanthropist Julius Rosenwald, who partnered with Booker T. Washington and African American communities to build over 5,000 schools in the Jim Crow South. The Rosenwald Fund also provided grants to support a who's who of African American artists and intellectuals. This historical partnership as well as the modern-day attempts to restore the schools is an inspiring story of philanthropy and local self-determination. A DVD of this film with over four and a half hours of bonus features was released in 2017.[2]

She is also the co-writer and co-producer of Casuse, a film about Larry Casuse, a young Native American activist who kidnapped the Mayor of Gallup, New Mexico to draw attention to the plight of the Navajo people and to expose the hypocrisy of the establishment.

Kempner directed, wrote and produced The Spy Behind Home Plate, the first full length documentary about Moe Berg, a Jewish baseball player, who caught and fielded in the Major Leagues from the 1920s through 1939 during baseball's Golden Age. But very few know that Berg also worked for the US Office of Strategic Services (OSS), spying in Europe. He played a prominent role in US efforts to undermine the German atomic bomb program during WWII.

She writes film criticism and feature articles for numerous publications, including The Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune, Crystal City Magazine, The Forward, Baltimore Jewish Times, Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Legal Times, New York Times, The Wrap, Washington Jewish Week and The Washington Post.

She has written chapters in these various books: God, Faith and Identity in the Ashes: Perspectives of Children and Grandchildren of Holocaust Survivors, Hammerin’ Hank Greenberg: Call Him the Hero of Heroes, When You Need A Little Lift: But Don’t Want To Eat Chocolate, Pay a Shrink, or Drink a Bottle of Gin, Jews and American Popular Culture, What Israel Means to Me, and Daughters of Absence.


  • Member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
  • 1996 Guggenheim Fellowship
  • 2000 DC Mayor's Art Award
  • 2001 Women of Vision Award, D.C.’s Women in Film and Video chapter
  • 2001 Media Arts Award, The National Foundation for Jewish Culture
  • 2009 San Francisco Jewish Film Festival's Freedom of Expression Awardee
  • 2017 Bernardo O'Higgins Award
  • 2018 Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from the University of the District of Columbia



  1. ^ "Screening of "Rosenwald" Documentary". Retrieved 2017-10-25.
  2. ^ [1]

External links[edit]

Category:Film directors from Washington, D.C.