Paris Film Premiere by UT Assistant Professor Is Triumph of Human Spirit

Published: Oct 12, 2009
Tom Garrett, director, producer and UT assistant film professor, is pulled to making movies about overcoming adversity. His newest project, premiering Oct. 12 in Paris and in January 2010 at the Film Society of Lincoln Center in New York City, follows suit.

A documentary on the life of Leon Blum, the film details the life of France’s first Jewish prime minister who started as a literary critic. He was imprisoned in Buchenwald from 1943 to 1945 on the claim of treason only to return later to regain his power as prime minister.

“Not many people in the U.S. know who Leon Blum is. Things like social security he started in France, and we fashioned our system after it,” Garrett said. “He was a frontiersman for change.”

Garrett didn’t realize it at first, but looking at the storyline of his three most recent projects – a high school band director with Tourette syndrome, an Olympic swimmer who is arrested by Adolph Hitler as Jew and sent to Auschwitz concentration camp and the story of Leon Blum – all speak to the strength of the human spirit.

“I think there is a triumph over adversity theme,” Garrett said after recollection, even noting that the book he is co-authoring on Academy Award-winning director John Avildsen details Avildsen’s films, like “Rocky” and “Lean on Me,” many of which carry the same theme.

While subliminal, Garrett’s pull to do these kinds of feature films and documentaries is to get the audience thinking as well as collaborate with long-time friends and colleagues. Garrett produced “Leon Blum” with Jean Bodon, a professor in the department of communication studies at The University of Alabama. Bodon was Garrett’s first film professor, turned colleague, who didn’t discover that his family had Jewish roots until he was in his 50s.

“What is fascinating about Tom is his passion for movies. He is extremely energetic which generally makes a project happen,” said Bodon, who hopes people walk away from “Leon Blum” with an appreciation for socialism. “I want people to realize that the ideas of Leon Blum still have validity. His motives for socialism were love and equality.”

The documentary, which includes interviews with French historian Jean Lacouture, two former prime ministers, Pierre Mauroy and Laurent Fabius, and Blum’s grandson Antoine Malamoud, will premiere in Paris on Oct. 12, 2009 at the Museum of Jewish Art and History.