Director/Producer Roberta Grossman did not set out to create a film that would be on the short list for the Academy Awards.
"I simply wanted to tell a story that should never be forgotten," she said.
Grossman will provide insights about her documentary, "Blessed is the Match: The Life and Death of Hannah Senesh," Wednesday at Western Iowa Tech Community College and the Orpheum Theatre. Both events are free and open to the public.
The 86-minute film is the centerpiece of this year's Tolerance Week, April 1-5.
Grossman's film tells the story of Hannah Senesh through the eyes of her mother Catherine Senesh -- as well as those of the heroine -- bringing their letters and diaries to life with reconstructions.
Hannah was 22 when she parachuted into Nazi-occupied Europe with a small band of Jewish volunteers from Palestine: the only military rescue mission for Jews during the Holocaust. A gifted student from a wealthy Budapest family, Hannah became a committed Zionist in the face of growing anti-Semetism in Hungary, emigrating to Palestine in 1939 without her mother. Hannah's mission ended in tragedy when she was captured and executed in a Gestapo prison.
Grossman said the young woman's poetry and diaries have left a legacy, including the inspiration for the title of the movie.
"Blessed is the match consumed in kindling flame. Blessed is the flame that burns in the secret fastness of the heart. Blessed is the heart with strength to stop its beating for honor’s sake. Blessed is the match consumed in kindling flame," wrote Senesh, days before her capture by the Nazis.
"I think of the poem like a suicide or an if-I-should-die note," Grossman said. "Hannah jotted this down and handed it to one of the other people in mission, telling them that if she didn't make it, to please give it to her 'people.' What she was saying was that one person -- or a several people -- may not stop the course of what's happening, but maybe their efforts would ignite a fire. The match may be consumed, but it also ignites the flame."
The 2008 film was shortlisted for the documentary Oscar; however, it didn't get a nomination.
"It was an incredible moment when I found that out -- so exciting, so gratifying," Grossman said. "The film had traveled all the Jewish film festivals and we felt like it was 'the little film that could.'"
Grossman believed Hannah's story would resonate with viewers, much like another young girl's experience.
"I asked a scholar once why Anne Frank is so well-known and Hannah's story is not," she said. "She said because of the play and the movie. Hannah is a famous person in Israeli history, but not so well-known elsewhere. This movie is a way to keep her memory alive."
An award-winning filmmaker with a passion for history and social justice, Grossman has written and produced more than 40 hours of documentary television. She was the series producer and co-writer of "500 Nations," the eight-hour CBS miniseries on Native Americans hosted by Kevin Costner. Grossman's feature documentary "Homeland: Four Portraits of Native Action," premiered in February 2005 and has screened and won awards at more than 40 festivals worldwide.
"I have a movie making its way through film festivals right now and in limited theatrical release called 'Hava Nagila,'" she said. "It's the biography of the song, much like the 'Amazing Grace' documentary, but ours is funny. Also I'm working with Nancy Spielberg, sister of Steven Spielberg, on a documentary on the Israeli Air Force."