“THE SAMUEL PROJECT”— Art. History. Life.


Art. History. Life.

Amos Lassen

 Eli (Ryan Ochoa) is the seventeen year old grandson of Samuel Bergman (Hal Linden)  and he has a lot of questions but Grandpa isn’t talking. Some things are too tough to talk about.

Samuel runs a successful dry-cleaning business in San Diego  but doesn’t show up for work one morning. One of Samuel’s employees has been there eight years and says his boss has never missed a day of work in all that time. Samuel is the best in town, according to his customers. However, he can’t ever seem to remove a stain from Vartan (Ken Davitian),  the butcher’s apron. Vartan comes around to the store not only to have his clothes cleaned, but also to exchange verbal jabs with Samuel and continue their seemingly never-ending chess game on a board set up behind the counter. 

Eli wants to be an artist and his father, Robert (Michael B. Silver), is still struggling to pay the bills even with a “real job.” Robert’s advice: go to community college, get a degree in a stable profession, and be an artist on the weekend. But Eli has to be an artist now because he has been assigned a history project in Mr. Turner’s (Philippe Bowgen) media class. The winning entry gets a scholarship to art school, which Eli desperately needs because he doesn’t have his father’s support,  financial or otherwise. Samuel doesn’t quite understand his grandson’s “doodles” either, but he’s fascinated that people can actually make a living doing that.

For the project, Eli pairs up with Kasim (Mateo Arias), a brooding musician who is being pressured into working at his father’s butcher shop. Eli offers to work at the dry-cleaning store before and after school without pay if Samuel will open up to him. The story about a young boy whose entire family was torn away from him by the Nazis, the teenage girl who rescued him from a gunshot wound inflicted by her own father, and his eventual journey to America all alone is the story that Eli wants Samuel to tell him.

Marc Fusco co-wrote (with Chris Neighbors and Steven Weinberger) and directed “The Samuel Project”. Eli piqued his grandfather’s interest in the project after giving him a ride to meet an old friend named Uma (Trina Kaplan) in Laguna Niguel. Eli wants to discover the significance of this woman in his grandfather’s life. In turn, he learns about his grandfather’s harrowing tale throughout the course of this project.

Though “The Samuel Project” is basically the simple story of a high school student bonding with the grandfather he doesn’t really know, it also is about the importance of learning your family history. Knowing the past can bring people closer together in the present, even when the older generation feels so disconnected from the youths of today. There are many people in the world who live unassuming lives and have fascinating stories to tell. The account here is not new but one we have heard time and time again throughout history. It is about how rhetoric and hate led to the deaths of millions of people and how young children became displaced from their families during WWII.

When Eli’s project is revealed at the end of the film, we find ourselves either openly weeping or holding back tears. as we watched the final product. Eli’s animations bring Samuel’s journey to life in an amazing way. “The Samuel Project” is also a film about young people finding and forging their own paths in life. Eli and Kasim must prove to their fathers that pursuing their careers in art and music may not be as financially stable as becoming businessmen but are worth exploring because they are passion projects they truly believe in, and that sometimes, all you need to do is follow your heart.

“This is a heartwarming and moving story that encourages kids to not only be curious and follow their dreams but to seek out information about their family history and the historical paths that may have had a hand in shaping their lives before they were even born.”

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