Shtetlers tells the secret story of small Jewish towns in the former Soviet Union. These towns, or shtetls as they were called, were once home to the largest Jewish population in the world. Only a few survived the Holocaust, and those that did were all located in the territory of the modern Ukraine and Moldova. In those small and remote towns of the Soviet interior, hidden from the world outside of the Iron Curtain, the traditional Jewish life continued for decades after it disappeared everywhere else. The tight-knit communities supported themselves by providing goods and services to their non-Jewish neighbors. The ancient religion, Yiddish language and folklore, ritualized cooking and elaborate craftsmanship were practiced, treasured and passed through the generations until very recently. The film follows nine very different people, now scattered around the world, who once belonged to the Jewish and non-Jewish shtetl communities. Their memories are a farewell to the vanished world of shtetl, a melting pot of cultures that many nations once called their home.
"Shtetlers reminds us that human experience is first and foremost individual, and we should not generalize or abstract it before we’ve acknowledged and examined its vivid individuality. The vividness of this film makes an engaging introduction to the subject of rural East European Jewish life in the Soviet Union and beyond and hints at the complexity of that life. The filmmaker’s exploration of the cultural and economic interpenetration between two religious communities gives Shtetlers its emotional depth and would make this film useful to any anthropologist, historian or sociologist who is considering that subject, whether in rural or urban communities. Recommended."- EMRO
- Volodya Malishevsky
- Vladimir Gorbulsky
- Isaac Vainshelboum
- Emilia Kessler
- "An intriguing new documentary by Katya Ustinova, Shtetlers, paints a picture of what life was like in these forgotten Jewish towns, as told through the eyes of nine people who lived in them. The film ... explores a history that is both revelatory and tragic. Ultimately, Ustinova shows that shtetls were a place of deep culture and of “neighborship,” as she called it."
- "Ustinova’s film, with its candid narrators, possessed of deep feelings and strong memories, is ... a worthy contribution."
- "Shtetlers provides a glimpse of living history that should not be forgotten."
- "[A]n important film, especially now, when anti-Semitism and ideological extremism are on the rise. "
- "[A]n impressive debut that clearly knows what it’s going for and delivers it too. A history lesson with humanity at its heart, Shtetlers acknowledges the importance of–and gives voice to–a whole Jewish way of life lost to time."
Awards & Recognition
Best Debut Film
Jewish Spotlight First Prize
Rhode Island Int'l. Film Festival
Calgary Film Festival
Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival
Miami Jewish Film Festival
Toronto Jewish Film Festival
New York Jewish Film Festival
Sarasota Film Festival
Krakow Film Festival
Boston Jewish Film Festival
Nashville Jewish Film Festival
Greater Phoenix Jewish Film Festival