KINDERLAND tells the story of two rival Jewish summer camps – one Communist, the other Socialist – founded in upstate New York in the 1920s and still in existence today. Camps Kinderland and Kinder Ring were established by secular Jews to inspire social-mindedness in their youth and have cultivated new generations of activists for nearly a century, helping to shape America’s progressive movement.
Despite their commonalities, the two camps enjoyed a legendary feud from their respective locations, on opposite sides of Sylvan Lake, where the sparring was ideological and the activities, such as re-enacting the Spanish Civil War for fun, comically mind-boggling.
While Kinderland and Kinder Ring no longer self-identify as communist or socialist, they remain proudly left-leaning (one still more so than the other). In response to our current political crisis, today’s campers, a largely secular multi-ethnic group, prioritize shared values over ideological differences and attempt to join forces, taking up the mantle of their predecessors to fight for equality and justice in a world where they are no longer guaranteed.
What makes “Kinderland” both exceptional and timely is that it presents a history of political consciousness in America. The original campers of both Kinderland and Kinder Ring were children of Eastern European immigrants who believed in the American dream. They were taught to stand up for their rights and those of others, to oppose racism, challenge unjust laws, and be active participants in making the world a better place. Many original alumni featured in “Kinderland” became leaders in the American labor movement that created the 8-hour day, weekends, social security, and Medicare.
Today’s campers are fighting for many of the same progressive measures their ancestors helped secure. “Democracy is not going backwards, it’s making a circle,” says Fanny, a 95-year-old former camper in the film. Alumni across generations similarly note the current resurgence in inequality, racism, and fascism as echoing back to the time of the camps’ founding. The cyclical nature of history is a running theme in “Kinderland” and a clarion call to social activists: To better the future, you have to consider the past.
About the Filmmaker
Award-winning Jewish American filmmaker Amy Grappell has twenty years of filmmaking experience. Her documentary “Quadrangle” premiered at Sundance, where it won a Jury Prize. It went on to win Best Short Film at SXSW, AFI, and Dallas International Film Festival and had its New York premiere at New Directors/New Films [MOMA/Lincoln Center] before being broadcast on HBO, where she also developed it as a scripted series. The following year she returned to Sundance with her short documentary “Kids Green The World” and was one of the select writer/directors of Richard Linklaters SLACKER 2011. Grappell’s feature documentary “Light from the East,” shot in the Ukraine during the fall of Communism, premiered at SXSW, aired on PBS, and is part of the collection at the Library of Congress. She’s the recipient of grants from Austin Film Society, National Endowment of the Arts, Texas Council for the Humanities and the Trull Foundation.