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The pull of Jewish roots was felt by a family in Brazil

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The Kibbutz-in-Brazil lifestyle of Antonio Cleofas, his wife, Anita Braga Bezerra, and family links to Judaism that drew them towards Israel is the subject of the award-winning film Leaving Paradise. (Photo: Supplied)

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One of the main sources of Jewish content at the Calgary International Film Festival this year was the enchanting documentary, Leaving Paradise.

Filmed in Brazil and Israel, it tells the unlikely story of a large, charismatic family, living out the vision of their father Cleo to grow old with his family on his own private commune in rural Brazil.

When we first see the family on screen, he, his wife, their 15 children and numerous grandchildren are living the life, on a plot of land that is part farm, part ceramics workshop and all freedom from societal rules and conventions. There are shots of naked toddlers playing in the mud and joyful children and adults swimming in a river. Communal meals and daily meetings are the norm. 

For Cleo (Antonio Cleofas) and his wife, Anita Braga Bezerra, this was their intentional paradise—a tropical enclave, originally called the “Kibbutz” and now known as “Vila Barolo.”  

In our Calgary to Israel Zoom interview, my first question for director Ofer Freiman was how did he, an Israeli, end up filming this wild bunch of Brazilians and making an award-winning documentary?  

The 38 Year old Freiman has been working in the film industry since he graduated with honours from Tel Hai College in the Upper Galilee in 2010. He met a woman in Israel named Fanny who was engaged to one of the sons, Gallego. What she told him about the family was so intriguing he decided he had to see it himself.  

“As soon as I learned about a unique family clan, living on a remote tropical farm in Brazil, I found myself boarding a plane.  I couldn’t remain indifferent to hearing that after discovering their Jewish roots, the entire family was planning to leave the wonderful paradise I saw in pictures behind, and immigrate to Israel’s reality?”  

Cleo, for many years, had felt an attachment to Judaism. It started when he first opened the Old Testament as a young man–even though he was raised Christian. He made sure to marry someone who agreed with his life plan to have many children and raise them “like hippies on a commune”. At some point, he declared himself Jewish and raised his children as Jews, to the best of his ability.  

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Prior to the start of filming, the family’s attachment to Judaism had intensified after research and DNA testing showed that mother, Anita, has Jewish blood. Her family heritage points to the Portuguese Jews who had fled the Spanish Inquisition. Three of the 15 siblings had already visited Israel and many of them became obsessed with the idea of making Aliyah to Israel. 

According to Freiman, “the father and leader of the family dreamt up Villa Barolo as a place …that could be seen from afar as a paradise upon earth; while it fact it is a family commune with its own rules and framework, accompanied by a personal price that everyone in the family pays.”

“Indeed, when Cleo deliberately delays the process of conversion to Judaism and the immigration to Israel … newlywed Gallego and his wife Fanny dare to put their own will above the group’s will … (and) a shockwave runs throughout the family.” 

Without giving too much away, one of the highlights of the film is the very passionate ‘Jewish’ wedding that is filmed in the gloriously natural setting. Freiman went back five times over six years to complete his passion project.     

The marriage of Fanny and Gallego is central to the storytelling by a family sage bridging from Brazil to Israel, Ofer Freiman’s documentary Leaving Paradise. (Photo: Supplied)

One of the questions the film asks is –what is paradise–the villa in rural Brazil or the making of Aliyah to Israel? Says Freiman, “I found the issues of freedom that resonate through the film fascinating, questions that I face myself.” 

The family was large and ever growing and they already lived as if they were on a Kibbutz. Picking fruit, planting vegetables, creating ceramic pots to sell; they were self-contained society.

Conversion was considered, but what Freiman saw there “was Judaism in its purest passionate form.” 

 “I couldn’t help but ask myself why this extraordinary family is willing to abandon the amazing communal life they lead on their farm in order to move to Israel?  Didn’t they understand that by taking such a drastic step, the charm of their lifestyle might get lost within the complex Israeli reality?”

Israeli director Ofer Freiman (R) is seen filming the happy bride after the nuptuals, a central theme to the story of his award-winning film Leaving Paradise, which screened at the Calgary International Film Festival. (Photo: Supplied)

The film raises questions about family, freedom, community and what it means to be a Jew. The tension between communal family life and self-fulfillment is the central theme of the conflict that is explored throughout the movie. 

Freiman is still in touch with the family and planning follow-up projects.

I greatly enjoyed the Canadian premiere of Leaving Paradise. It won the Best Film Award in the Israeli Documentary Film Competition, at the International Haifa Film Festival and is continuing to appear at film festivals around the world. Here is the official trailer for the film:

Israeli director Ofer Freiman (R) is seen filming the happy bride after the nuptuals, a central theme to the story of his award-winning film Leaving Paradise, which screened at the Calgary International Film Festival. (Photo: Supplied)

For further information check out the Facebook page: 

https://www.facebook.com/LeavingParadise or contact movie distributor

go2films

The distributor is at https://go2films.com/films/leaving-paradise.

Please note, it is possible to show this film for educational purposes.

Neilia Sherman is a social worker and a widely published freelance writer. She specializes in personal essays, travel, Jewish issues, psychology and health. She can be reached at [email protected]. Check out her Blog: socialworkertravels.blog,

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Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

We thank you for your ongoing support.

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