A Leap of Faith

Dan Cohen '76 makes a film about the enduring power of diversity.

By Christine Loman ’12

Dan Cohen ’76 was a journalist for 25 years, but he left an NBC station in Washington, D.C., 12 years ago to start his own film production company. Now his move is paying off. He directed and produced An Article of Hope, which garnered awards at the L.A. Jewish Film Festival as well as festivals in Hong Kong and San Diego, California. Cohen is currently working to find underwriting so that PBS will air the film on network television.

The documentary, which boasts Tom Hanks as executive producer, follows a miniature Torah scroll from the horrors of a concentration camp to the Columbia space shuttle. Cohen talked with ICView about his inspiration for the film and how he was able to tell a story that spanned generations.

ICView: How did you choose the subject for your documentary?
DC: Space exploration has always been a fascination of mine, ever since I was a child. When the Columbia space shuttle exploded, I was very tuned into it. About two weeks after the accident, I read a story about Ilan Ramon, one of the astronauts killed aboard the shuttle, and the artifact from the Holocaust that he had carried with him. As I got deeper into the story, I thought to myself, “What an interesting new way to tell a Holocaust story to a new generation through technology and space exploration.” And it took off from there.

ICView: Was this a hard story to tell?
DC: At first glance, I thought I had a Holocaust story to tell, but ultimately, it ended up being more than a Holocaust story. It’s about the beauty of diversity, and that’s embodied in the Columbia crew. They were the most diverse group of astronauts ever to fly together in space; they were from around the world and different ethnic backgrounds, and they demonstrated to the world the magnificence of diversity. When you come together, it works for the greater good of all of us, and woven through this is this Holocaust story and this horrific effort in our history to stamp out diversity. So it’s a complicated story with a lot of dots that ultimately connect.

ICView: What did it mean for you personally to be able to tell this story?
This project is a project of passion. It took me seven years to complete the film by the time we were able to gather funding and do the research and shoot, ultimately arriving at our production partners in Los Angeles, including Tom Hanks, who was the executive producer of the film. It was the opportunity of a career to make a film like this.

ICView: Was it difficult to follow the story through multiple generations?
DC: The article of hope in this story is the artifact, and that artifact represents a different meaning for different people at different points in time. For the rabbi who was in the barrack in the Holocaust, it represented a way to bring faith into the horror of a concentration camp. For the little boy who promised to keep the artifact and tell the world the story of what happened at Bergen Belsen, it represented an opportunity. For Ilan Ramon, it represented an opportunity to show the world who he was, and for the Columbia crew, it represented the magnificence of diversity.

View a trailer for the movie below.