Social issues at center of work for Mondells
By James Russell
Special to the TJP
The first documentary created by Allen and Cynthia Salzman Mondell was about divorce.
Who Remembers Mama?, which premiered in 1978, is about middle-aged women whose husbands leave them. Left with no marketable skills, Salzman Mondell said, “these women became the new poor.”
The subject is admittedly ironic to the couple, who have been married 48 years. Forty of those years have been spent making social issue documentaries through their not-for-profit organization Media Projects, Inc.
The couple have fundraised for, written, produced and edited documentaries about divorcees, contemporary anti-Semitism in Europe, suicide among youth, and Texas’ Jewish history through the nonprofit. They have made movies for the Sixth Floor Museum and the now defunct Women’s History Museum, both in Dallas, and the Women’s Rights National Historical Park in Seneca Falls, New York.
Now the Mondells will appear in a retrospective documentary about their career at 10 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 14, on KERA as part of the channel’s Frame of Mind series about local filmmakers.
Choosing which films to highlight among their four decades of filmmaking “was like choosing children,” Salzman Mondell said. “We remembered stories about us, like with fundraising, showing the film, on set and who it impacted. So many stories bubbled up. Sometimes it was extremely difficult but it was rewarding in the end.”
The couple have lived and worked together for almost half a century, mostly in a house on Homer Street near Downtown Dallas. Their work is intertwined with their life, even to the point that their daughter is now a filmmaker too.
Allen Mondell was moved as they culled through their archives.
“It was really moving for me to look at our past. We had been married about 10 years and the first film we are making is about divorce,” he said. Many times their work will be requested as a community faces timely and tough issues, like a suicide.
Their Jewish consciousness motivates them to examine tough topics.
“Growing up in a Jewish household, you can’t help but get the sense we have an obligation to give back, to help those less fortunate than we. That is part of what is in the atmosphere of growing up in Jewish households,” he said.
The couple have made four documentaries about Jewish life.
But those four films still tackle issues facing other communities.
“West of Hester Street is a strong film about Jewish immigration. It has the same issues (facing) Hispanics or Muslims. You have the same issue we’re talking about. And of course our anti-Semitism film, The Monster Among Us, you can’t get any more relevant than that film about anti-Semitism in Europe today. It’s spread and is now more vocal,” he noted.
Their movies are also deeply personal, as is the case with Louie, Louie: A Portrait in Parkinson’s about Salzman Mondell’s father’s struggle with the debilitating disease.
Their current projects are also deeply personal. Her mother’s death inspired her current project about women’s relationships with their shoes (Sole Sisters); watching the Knox-Henderson community gentrify influenced this current project. Both may have been rooted in their own personal stories but, as the couple have done for the past 40 years, will also address a wider audience.
Over the last 40 years, the Allen and Cynthia Salzman Mondell have produced the following films through Media Projects, Inc.
A Dallas Jewish Journey
Rare archival photos and footage accompanied by original music bring to life the colorful and poignant story of the challenges and growth of the Dallas Jewish community from 1858 through today.
A Fair To Remember
Lone Star Emmy award film that weaves together the colorful stories of the 125-year history of Dallas’ own State Fair of Texas, its impact on the Lone Star State’s commerce and cultural heritage, and how this annual event epitomizes the city’s “can do” spirit.
A Reason to Live
A powerful documentary about teen and young adult depression and suicide – personal stories of despair and hope told by young people of different ages, ethnicities and sexual orientation – and their families. The honesty and openness of these individuals bring us face to face with a mental illness that can result in the third-leading cause of death among 15-24 year olds. A 2-DVD set includes classroom and adult versions of the film, with additional special features.
A Wasted Breath: Kids on Inhalants
Educating youngsters about the dangers of inhalants with compelling stories told by their peers.
A, E, I, O & U
Chronicles the experience of three students and three literacy volunteers as they learn and grow through an adult reading program. Produced for Half Price Book Store.
Beauty in the Bricks
A vibrant and poignant film that tells the story of the aspirations and frustrations of four African-American teenage girls growing up in an urban housing project. Goes beyond stereotypes.
Beauty Leaves the Bricks
A follow-up documentary TO BEAUTY IN THE BRICKS that brings viewers up-to-date after 13 years on the lives and dreams of the four African American teenage girls they met in the original film.
Dreams of Equality
A documentary drama that chronicles the struggles of the women’s rights movement, told through the letters between a sister and brother that spanned 30 years. Featuring the story of Elizabeth Cady Stanton at the First public women’s convention.
Films from the Sixth Floor
Six films on the life, death and legacy of President John F. Kennedy for The Sixth Floor Museum at the former Texas School Book Depository in Dallas, Texas.
Featuring Lilly Tomlin, Lucille Ball, Wanda Sykes, Gilda Radner and more. A humorous short film about the history of women comediennes since the advent of television in America. Shows the power of women’s humor. Produced as a permanent exhibition at The Women’s Museum in Dallas.
Guts, Gumption and Go-Ahead: Annie Mae Hunt Remembers
The inspiring true story of an extraordinary African American woman that spans three generations from slavery to contemporary times.
Handguns: Made for Killing, Not for Kids
The tragic dangers of handguns of America. and the emotional and legal consequences of handgun violence. An award -winning violence prevention video.
Heroin Kids: Dying for Help
Tells the truth and consequences of heroin use in language kids understand.
Inhalant Abuse: Kids in Danger/Adults in the Dark
An overview of the inhalant abuse problem that identifies, educates parents and teachers.
Louie, Louie: A Portrait in Parkinsons
A story of a man’s courageous determination to retain his independence while fighting Parkinson’s disease. And a loving family’s efforts to weather crisis after crisis as they watch the one they love robbed of his ability to care for himself.
Make Me A Match
A warm-hearted story of Jewish singles grappling to find both their soulmates and to retain their cultural and ethnic identity using the traditional institution of Jewish matchmaking in a contemporary setting.
Many Facets: The Zale Legacy
A biographical documentary about the family who built the largest retail jewelry chain in the world and at the same time set up philanthropic foundations that contribute millions of dollars to worthwhile causes.
My Son the Scout
When the Boy Scouts of America started recruiting Jewish Scouts they knew they had to offer different programs that fit into the Jewish Culture. This film captures the values of Judaism and the Scout program. Filled with warmth and humor. It is a unique film about the Boy Scouts. Produced for the Boy Scouts.
Sex: A Topic of Conversation with Dr. Sol Gordon
America’s foremost sex and family educator shows parents, teachers and health professionals how to talk to young people in language they will understand. A 3-part series for parents of young children, parents of teens and teenagers.
Sisters of 77
This vibrant film recounts the passionate story of a revolutionary Conference that set the agenda for women’s rights in Houston, Texas, in 1977. Features Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, Ann Richards, Liz Carpenter, Bella Abzug and Ellie Smeal.
Smackers: Elementary Entrepreneurs
Second-graders demonstrate a practical lesson in basic economics. A perfect film for kids to learn economic lessons from their peers.
Smokeless Tobacco: A Spittin’ Image
A dynamic video that tells the dangers of smokeless tobacco.
“Every Shoe has a story. Every woman has both.” SOLE SISTERS will be a documentary film about women’s lives seen through personal stories about their shoes. Anchored by the film, Media Projects will develop a multimedia platform with educational and entertainment experiences that include the web, theater and publishing opportunities. The SOLE SISTERS’ project will reach a global audience as it celebrates, uplifts and empowers women of all ages, ethnicities and walks of life.
The Baylor Story: A Proud History
An engaging and fascinating history of how the inspiring vision of three men created one of the largest medical centers in Texas.
The Henderson Avenue Bug Patrol
Neighborhood friends leave their television and games to explore the fascinating world of nature just outside their front doors. Teaches elementary age children about their environment.
The Ladies Room
Stories of love, sex, marriage and divorce as told from behind the doors of women’s restrooms.
The Monster Among Us
A provocative and timely film revealing the anti-Semitism in Europe today seen through the personal stories of people living in six European countries.
The Teen Years: War or Peace?
Workable solutions to common conflicts between parents and teenagers ranging from chores and messy rooms to the more critical issues of sexuality and substance abuse.
Thinking Like A Woman
A one-of-a-kind success story that tells the unique story of cosmetic entrepreneur Mary Kay Ash and how she founded a business that opened the door for women around the world to experience success on their own terms.
To The Rescue
Four films that capture the history of emergency medical and rescue services in the United States and the spirit of the dedicated volunteers who risk their lives to save others. Produced for the Roanoke Valley History Museum in Roanoke, Virginia.
Waging Peace: The Peace Corps Experience
The Peace Corps experience told through the letters, journals and blogs of the Volunteers written while on the job. Allen Mondell was a Peace Corps teacher in Sierra Leone, West Africa.
West of Hester Street
A docu-drama about Jewish immigrants settling in America’s heartland in the early 1900s, far from their traditional culture. Interweaves the Galveston Movement with a warm personal story of one immigrant and his family.
We’re Not Stupid: Living with a Learning Difference
An insightful and personal video that gives a voice to people who are struggling with learning differences. A must see for students with LD and educators who want to make a difference.
Who Remembers Mama?
Emotional, economic and legal problems confronting middle-aged, divorced homemakers.