“Chasing Portraits”: A story of family, legacy and art

Elizabeth Rynecki with a portrait.

This month, Maryville College continued its seasonal partnership with the Southern Circuit Tour of Independent Filmmakers per a showing of “Chasing Portraits.”

This independent documentary was shown at the Clayton Center Tuesday Nov. 6th and follows filmmaker Elizabeth Rynecki as she attempts to rediscover the lost works of her great grandfather, painter Moshe Rynecki. Depicting life and culture in the Polish-Jewish community pre-World War Two, most of his work perished during the holocaust.

The Rynecki family only retains a small portion of Moshe Rynecki paintings. Yet, believing that some pieces survived the war, Rynecki seeks to honor her family’s legacy in the film by documenting the art through a camera lenses instead of pursuing restitution claims. “I hope that after seeing my great-grandfather’s art, audiences will love it and gain a better understanding of the rich and vibrant world of Polish-Jewish art that was lost during the war,” said the filmmaker.

“If the film inspires audiences to be curious about their own family history that would be ideal.” This idea of legacy and heritage is constantly referenced throughout the film as various members of the Rynecki family struggle to reconcile the present with past horrors, all the while becoming more submersed in their ethnic heritage and culture.

“I also hope that by sharing my own deeply personal experience of navigating my Holocaust legacy, audiences will begin to see how the effects of war cascade down to subsequent generations,” said Rynecki. For instance, in addition to detailing her quest for the paintings, “Chasing Portraits” portrays the filmmaker’s relationship with her father who was a Holocaust survivor. The film explores the generational gaps between the two and provides an insightful contrast as to how their shared Jewish history effects each of them differently. Whereas Rynecki wishes to illuminate her family’s past and is passionately searching for artistic relics of heritage, her father is somewhat more trepidatious.

He seemingly supports the film’s goal wholeheartedly, but notes that rehashing history is “hard work Elizabeth.” For him, exploring the past is painfully emotional as it opens old wounds: traumatic memories of terrible times. Rynecki believes that her film speaks to present issues as well. “I think that [the film] speaks to a larger story of what it means to be a refuge, to be displaced from one’s homeland and how that experience then impacts the next generation,” said the filmmaker. “I hope those watching the film take a step back and look at politics today.”

“I hope they understand what anti-Semitism and hate can lead to. It is an awful terrible horrible thing. My family directly experienced what hate means. It means murder it means displacement it means loss of income and home.” Moshe Rynecki lost his life in a concentration camp due to this hatred, but his art will now reach a larger audience than ever previously conceived.

While quite a few pieces remain unseen or are determined to have been destroyed, Rynecki has achieved much of her goal in bringing her great grandfather’s work into the limelight.

“I can not attribute opinions to my great grandfather. I never knew him because he died many decades before I was born, but I like to think that he would be grateful that I have shared his art with others. I feel like each generation of my family has worked to tell this story and that’s a great accomplishment. I am proud of that.”

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