For one young descendant of Holocaust survivors, trauma becomes real in Alana Waksman’s personal film, We Burn Like This.
When Rae (Madeleine Coghlan) becomes a target of Neo-Nazis in Billings, Mont., the trauma her ancestors faced becomes all too real. Eventually, she hits her lowest and returns home. This is where Rae learns the truth about an accident during her childhood. Meanwhile, the rising antisemitism in Billings leads Rae on a journey in her own right. It’s a journey of forgiveness, be it her, her mom, or the world in general. Waksman’s script places the effects of historical trauma front and center. It’s something that’s all too timely and relevant in 2021 especially with the recent uptick here in the US. But while the film does focus on the antisemitic hatred, Waksman also chooses to show the survival and healing process that comes with it. The latter of which is something that doesn’t come easy.
Madeleine Coghlan shines in her performance as Rae. Her character goes on quite the journey from the beginning to end. One can imagine that Waksman injects a lot of herself into the character but I can’t say for sure. In any event, there’s quite the journey of Jewish identity throughout the film. Meanwhile, Devery Jacobs stars along side Coghlan as Chrissy and a number of solid performers round out the cast. Together, they help bring this very personal story to life.
If you watched The Rabbi Goes West, then you already have some familiarity with the Jews living in Montana. Anyway, an act of antisemitic hatred that transpired following the day after the 2016 election had an immediate impact on filmmaker Alana Waksman, for better or worse. It would go onto inspire her to pen the script for We Burn Like This. Waksman went on to produce this low-budget indie film for under $500K. The film runs slightly over 80 minutes but Waksman packs in a lot of punch in that time.
Much like Rae in the film, Waksman is a descendant of Holocaust survivors. Unfortunately, she never met her grandparents. Her paternal grandparents immigrated to the US, where dad would become ashamed to be a Jewish immigrant because of the antisemitism in school. Flash forward to 2016 and the very antisemitism that led her grandparents to the camps became real once again. This hate still surrounds us today. You cannot turn on your computer or phone without learning of another antisemitic incident. Hell, Jews can’t even post a photo from having brunch without getting death treats. Maybe it’s a coincidence but the film’s Tallgrass screening came on Cheshvan 18. The date marks the 3rd Yahrtzeit of the Tree of Life synagogue shooting victims.
It is Alana Waksman’s hope that We Burn Like This will help people will find a way to heal–whether that happens remains to be determined. Regardless, We Burn Like This is a well-made narrative feature debut and leads to a bright future behind the camera for Waksman.
DIRECTOR/SCREENWRITER: Alana Waksman
CAST: Madeleine Coghlan, Devery Jacobs, Casidee Riley, Angelo Rizzo, Kendra Mylnechuk, Megan Folsom
We Burn Like This screened during the 2021 Tallgrass Film Festival in the Stubbornly Independent Competition.
Please subscribe to Solzy at the Movies on Substack.