Letters to my Grandfather

In the aftermath of their venerated father’s death, two brothers travel to Europe to learn about his childhood experiences during the Holocaust that shaped a man they never fully knew.

Project type: Nonfiction Feature
Project status: Development
Director: Michael Gil
Producer/Editor: Nicholas Manting Brewer
Producer: Emily Grandcolas
Director of Photography: Feixue Tang
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In the aftermath of their venerated father’s death, two brothers travel to Europe to learn about his childhood experiences during the Holocaust that shaped a man they never fully knew.


Letters to my Grandfather is a personal, poetic documentary about how memory and origin-stories shape our identities. David Gil was my grandfather, though in truth, I always thought of him more as Professor Gil than Grandpa. He studied the systemic roots of injustice and fought for sweeping changes in national social policies that marked him a 1960s radical and a forerunner of modern-day progressives. He was a remarkable man, and I regret not finding a way to know him more fully when I had the chance. But while he was willing to defend his ideas in lectures and in print, he only rarely discussed how his personal life had shaped those beliefs, and so much was left unsaid.

In this film, I’ll follow my Dad and uncle, Dan and Gideon, as we seek to understand their father, beyond the larger-than-life legacy he left behind. Hoping to gain a deeper sense of their father, Dan and Gideon travel from Lexington, MA to their father’s birthplace in Vienna, then on to Sweden and Israel, following a trail marked out in a series of letters written by their grandmother to their father when he was a boy in hiding during the Holocaust. The brothers are captivated by these letters, the physical pages connecting them to their father’s childhood and preserving a tale of horror and bravery that would be remarkable even if it wasn’t about their grandmother. But it’s a story in which every other chapter is missing: David’s responses are lost to time.

My grandfather’s journey lies at the center of this film, but it will ultimately focus on how Dan and Gideon relate to that story: which questions continue to weigh on them and how they seek answers.

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Meet the Filmmakers

Michael Gil – Director
Michael Gil is the co-founder of Standard Deviation Productions, an LA based production company with the mission of connecting people—and ideas—through cinematic storytelling.

Born and raised in southern California, he grew up surrounded by a large and loud family of Baghdadi Jews. His love of storytelling was born as he sat enraptured by his aunt’s and uncle’s recounted memories of youthful adventure and romance. Subsequently learning that those stories were not entirely factual only further cemented his understanding of, and his belief in, the transformative power of stories. From the moment he first “borrowed” his mother’s camera, as a 4-year-old with directorial ambitions, he has never looked back. Michael is visual storyteller who has worked on documentary, narrative and experimental films. He frequently explores themes of memory, identity and the role of subjective truth in an increasingly mechanistic, impersonal world. It is his ambition to create engaging media that can catalyze positive change and inspire empathy.

He earned his B.A. from Harvard University, where he studied Philosophy and Cognitive
Neuroscience. He earned his M.F.A. in Film Production at the University of Southern
California, School of Cinematic Arts.

Nicholas Manting Brewer – Producer/Editor
Nicholas Manting Brewer is an award-winning documentary storyteller and film editor based out of Los Angeles, CA by way of Augusta, GA. His work has screened at film festivals, including Sundance, South by Southwest and Cleveland International Film Festival. Nicholas earned his BA in Anthropology from New College of Florida and his MFA from the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts. In 2018, Nicholas co-founded Standard Deviation Productions. He hopes to make films that connect people in an increasingly polarized world.

As a team, under our Standard Deviation banner, we have produced, shot and edited five documentary shorts that capture the lived experiences of individuals amidst the overwhelming, large-scale societal crises of the opioid epidemic and national immigrant detention policies. Our films have aired on PBS, screened at festivals around the world and served as educational tools in classrooms and for nonprofits throughout the United States.

Emily Grandcolas – Producer
Emily Grandcolas is a documentary filmmaker and photographer who holds a B.A. in Film and Television Production from the University of Southern California. Her work focuses on stories from the global community that reveal hidden truths about ourselves and our societies.

Her work has been on display on NPR’s Latino USA, PBS, the Gayle and Ed Roski Master of Fine Arts Gallery, the USC Fisher Museum of Art and the site Girls Will Be Girls.

Feixue Tang – Director of Photography
Feixue Tang is a cinematographer based in LA and Beijing. She received her BFA in The Central Academy of Drama in Beijing China, majoring in dramatic writing and literature in theater studies. She received her MFA degree at University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts, majoring in cinematography.
With a strong enthusiasm for visual storytelling, Feixue Tang works as a cinematographer in both narrative and documentary fields. Her works have been awards winning and selected and shown in various film festivals.

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