Claims Conference Announces Winner Of Film Contest For Emerging Directors Focused On The Holocaust

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Sabina Vajrača

NEW YORK, NEW YORK: May 17, 2022 – Gideon Taylor, President of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (Claims Conference), announced the winner of the Claims Conference’s Short Film, Large Subject Emerging Filmmaker Contest. First place goes to Sabina Vajrača, a Bosnian-American filmmaker who was influenced by her Muslim family’s experience in Bosnia during World War II. The contest received thirty-nine applications from seven countries. The criteria for all entries required the topic of the film be focused on the Holocaust. Ms. Vajrača will receive $40,000 USD as well as additional development support to turn her screenplay into a film.

Gideon Taylor, President of the Claims Conference, said, “The Claims Conference is pleased to provide a new generation of filmmakers the opportunity to bring to life the memory and lessons of the Holocaust. We are proud to facilitate the creation of these narratives and documentaries. Film is a critical medium when it comes to telling the story of the Shoah, and it is an incredible opportunity to support these directors as they share their unique lens on this history. This film comes at another pivotal moment in history when we are witnessing the importance of standing up – of not being a bystander.”

This year’s winner, Sabina Vajrača, crafted an exciting narrative inspired by a true story set during two wars in Bosnia. Her film, Sevap / Mitzvah, tells the story of a Muslim family that saves their Jewish friends when the Nazis invade Sarajevo only to have them return the favor fifty years later during the Bosnian war.

The film is inspired by the story of the Hardaga family, who were Muslim, and the Kavilio family, who were Jews. When the Nazis reached Sarajevo during World War II, the Hardaga family took in the Kavilio family and treated them as their own, risking their lives in the process. For years, they provided support and comfort even though doing so put them in grave danger. Because of the Hardaga family’s heroism and humanity, the Kavilio family survived the Holocaust and immigrated to Israel.

A tree planting ceremony at Yad Vashem in honor of the Hardaga family being recognized  as Righteous Among the Nations, 1985. Zejneba Hardaga, the daughter of the family who saved the Kavilio family, is pictured here 4th from the right.
[Photo: Yad Vashem]

In 1984, the Kavilio family provided testimony to Yad Vashem, and the Hardagas were recognized as Righteous Among the Nations. Fast forward to 1994—50 years later— the Hardagas were in peril as war raged in Sarajevo and Serbs perpetuated their ethnic cleansing campaign. As a result of the Kavilio family’s urgent pleas, the State of Israel intervened and secured safe passage for the Hardaga family to Israel.

Ms. Vajrača’s film and the Hardaga family are featured in the recently launched Claims Conference social media campaign, Don’t Be A Bystander. The Hardaga/Kavilio family story alone has garnered over 1.8 million views with the overall campaign has received more than 14 million views. The Claims Conference has deployed this campaign to highlight those recognized as Righteous Among the Nations, the honor given by Yad Vashem to non-Jews who risked their lives and often the lives of their families to save Jews during the Holocaust. Claims Conference is on a mission to inspire the world to lean into their humanity, a purpose that aligns with the message of Vajrača’s winning film.

Sabina Vajrača responded to the announcement saying, “I’m deeply humbled and very excited to be the recipient of this year’s filmmaking grant from the Claims Conference. What an honor to be selected from what I can only imagine was an incredible group of stories.” Referring to her own film she added, “May this story inspired by a Muslim family and a Jewish family helping one another survive when wars came to their doorsteps inspire us all to continuously choose good over evil, no matter the circumstances, even if it means crossing religious, political and any other borders we may at times deem insurmountable.”

Greg Schneider, Executive Vice President of the Claims Conference, said, “We are elated to award Sabina Vajrača the top prize for the Claims Conference’s Emerging Filmmaker contest. Her film amplifies a story that inspires all of us to reach beyond social and political norms and lean into our humanity, helping our friends and neighbors during challenging times—even if it means putting ourselves in peril. Without film and social media, the stories of the Holocaust may be lost and the lessons they provide forgotten.”

Ms. Vajrača is represented by Paradigm, Waldorf Entertainment and GGSSC. She is an alumna of USC School of Cinematic Arts, Ryan Murphy Half Directing Mentorship, Almanack Screenwriters, and the Stowe Story Labs. She’s been nominated for 2020 HUMANITAS Prize, Student Oscar, and Student British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) award. And she is the Grand Prize winner of the 2019 Directors Guild of America Student Film Awards (DGA SA) and a recipient of the Alfred P. Sloan grant.

The Short Film, Large Subject Emerging Filmmaker Contest winning film and the runners up were all chosen by an expert panel composed of jurists who work across the industry, including Florentina Almonte, Content Acquisitions Executive with Shorts TV International; Wouter Jansen, owner of sales and festival distribution company Square Eyes; Pelin Uzay, producer and film consultant; and Philippa Kowarsky, Commissioning Editor for BBC Storyville.

Florentina Almonte, jury member for the contest and Content Acquisitions Executive at ShortsTV International, said “It was a great pleasure and an honor for me to be part of the jury.  It is delightful to see how this new generation of filmmakers engages in such an important subject. I look forward to seeing the finished result and seeing the impact on future generations when learning about these events that took place during the Holocaust.”

Runners up for this year’s contest include:

  • Lisa Namdar Kaufman for her documentary film, Fredi, Harry, Yair: A Brotherhood Displaced
  • Asia Khmelova for her narrative film, The Night Before
  • Michael Masarof for his narrative film, The Woman from Hamburg
  • Eris Qian for her narrative film, Last Ship East

Dr. Michael Berenbaum, author, advisor on historical films and museum design, Professor of Jewish Studies, American Jewish University and member of the Claims Conference film committee, said, “Film is a critically important medium in this day of virtual and digital content. It is inspiring to witness this new generations of filmmakers endeavoring to continue telling the stories of the Holocaust and using their craft to perpetuate truth.”

More information about the 2021 contest winners can be found on the Claims Conference website at Applications are open now through June 6, 2022 for the 2022 Emerging Filmmaker contest. More information and applications can be found at

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