Film, 'Children of the Inquisition,' has deep RI roots

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Children of the Inquisition, a remarkable reconsideration of history and identity, will be a featured selection of the Rhode Island International Film Festival screening at RISD Museum, Metcalf Auditorium, on Sunday, August 11 at 5 p.m.

Children of the Inquisition takes us on a 500-year trek across continents, oceans and political landscapes when intense religious persecutions forced people to convert, flee and hide in order to survive. The film’s revelation of these treacherous journeys and conflicting identities leaves audiences questioning their assumptions about their own family histories and identities. Also in this period of extraordinary social, ethnic and racial divisiveness, Children of the Inquisition breaks down barriers between people and re-establishes the history we share.

The film follows a diverse international cast as they search to discover what happened to their Spanish and Portuguese ancestors as they were pressured to convert to Catholicism or flee during the Inquisition. With the migrations from Spain to Portugal, to Italy and then to Eastern Europe, the Ottoman Empire and the New World, Children of the Inquisition may hold some clues for Rhode Islanders’ family journeys. 

 This international story has strong Rhode Island roots. Providence-born director Joseph Lovett is a graduate of Moses Brown School. A Peabody award winning filmmaker, Joe first learned of the Inquisition when in 1958 Rabbi William Braude of Temple Beth El in Providence gave a sermon “Todos Catolicos - Everyone is Catholic” about Spanish Catholic families who had been converted from Judaism in the years prior to and during the Inquisition. Thirteen-year-old Joe was fascinated that something that happened 500 years ago could still affect people today.

Years later when Sylvia Moubayed, founder of the legendary CAV restaurant, married Joe’s brother-in-law Alvin Stallman, Joe learned first-hand about the history of the Jews of Spain and Portugal and their Diaspora. Over dinners at CAV, Sylvia and her mother Sarah Barcilon told stories of their families’ migrations to Rhode Island from Spain via migrations to Turkey, then to Rhodes, and then to Alexandria, Egypt before coming to Providence. It was their passionate interest in their Sephardic heritage that inspired Joe to begin the film. 

Children of the Inquisition’s Emmy award winning producer Hilary Klotz Steinman is also a Rhode Island native hailing from Westerly. Hilary and Joe also produced Going Blind: Coming out of the Dark About Vision Loss, which continues to air on public television nationwide. In 2016 at the RIFF, Hilary was very proud to screen Death By Design, about dirty secrets behind our digital devices. 

Another Rhode Island collaborator on the film is David Gitlitz, Professor Emeritus of Hispanic Studies at URI. David, an expert on Inquisition records and author, joined Joe and Hilary in Segovia, Madrid and Toledo as they traced the family of New York Times

journalist Doreen Carvajal back to the first converts from Judaism to Catholicism in the mid 1300’s. From Inquisition testimony, we learn that Doreen’s 16th great -grandfather who was finance minister to Castille’s King Enrique IV navigated a dual identity as a prominent Catholic nobleman who practiced Jewish rituals and prayers in the privacy of his home.

A trailer to the movie is available at www.childrenoftheinquisition.com.

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