Meet Dan Cohen.
Dan is a six-time Emmy Award winning veteran journalist and documentary filmmaker as well as a native Washingtonian. His recent documentary, “Space Shuttle Columbia: Mission of Hope” has achieved mass distribution, airing on PBS stations across the country. FamousDC had the chance to speak with Dan about the incredible story he tells in his film.
About the film: In 2003, Space Shuttle Columbia carried a remarkable and diverse crew, which included Israel’s first astronaut, Colonel Ilan Ramon who was the son of Holocaust survivors; however, the shuttle exploded on its return. Dan’s new documentary tells the untold story of Colonel Ramon and his crewmates as well as the story of a small Torah scroll from the Holocaust that was on the Shuttle. It is a story of hope that will connect with audiences of any background.
You can watch the documentary on:
Sunday February 17th, 2013 at 5:00 PM ET – WETA
Saturday February 23rd, 2013 at 7:00 PM ET – MPT/WMPT
1. How did you learn about this story?
I became interested in this story because I am a space geek. I live and breathe space exploration. As a child, there was a blue chair in my living room, and that blue chair was my space capsule. I never lost my love for space exploration. I was very tuned into what had happened with Columbia. I read about the scroll that was in the shuttle, which you learn about in the film, and I reached out to Joachim “Yoya” Joseph, a Holocaust survivor, who gave the scroll to Ilan. Yoya told me, “What can I do to help you tell this story?” I asked for his permission to develop the documentary. I thought it was an interesting way to tell a Holocaust story to a new generation. I started to do my research, and I thought I was doing a Holocaust story, but when I pulled back the top layer I realized there were a lot of pieces to connect. It ultimately became a story about the crew. This is a universal story; this is not a religious film. This is a journey of the human spirit.
2. How did the idea for the film eventually become reality?
I didn’t want to make a documentary that went into all of the film festivals and vanished. I wanted it to be watched. So, I pitched the idea to The Playtone Company, and it was eventually pitched to Tom Hanks, and he became one of the executive producers for the film.
When you make a documentary at this level and try to get it onto television, you maybe have a 10% chance because the odds are stacked against you unless you have passion. I am a storyteller. I latched onto an incredibly powerful story. This story is important, and we need these messages of hope.
3. What message do you want people to leave with after seeing this film?
The message in this film is embodied in the Columbia crew. If we all work together for the greater good, then there is hope for a better day. There is also the story of, “Unless you know your past, how can you know your future?”
Ilan trained for this mission for five years, and he really had a mission within a mission. He was more than just an astronaut – he was representing Israel. The film also discusses the items astronauts bring with them to space, and Ilan decided some of the items he brought would involve the Holocaust. Ilan chose the scroll from his friend because he wanted to show the world how a person can go from the depths of hell to the heights of space.
This story is an incredible twist of fate. You have three men born in different times and woven together by this small scroll. It’s a universal story that draws you in and doesn’t let you go.
4. You’re a successful journalist and filmmaker, but you don’t live in Los Angeles or New York City, both of which tend to be the norm. Why DC?
I am a native Washingtonian. I love DC. I was born and raised here – I am a rare breed.
What is your favorite movie that takes place in DC?
“A Few Good Men.” That Jack Nicholson scene was the best, “You can’t handle the truth.”