The 15th annual Human Rights Watch Film Festival, co-presented by TIFF and Human Rights Watch, features a diverse lineup celebrating the power individuals can hold in complex social and political situations. This year’s Opening Night film is On My Way Out: The Secret Life of Nani and Popi. The film offers an intimate look at the story of Roman and Ruth Blank. A couple whose experience casts a light on the power and complexity of love, marriage, and deeply held family secrets.
On My Way Out began as a short film by Brandon and Skyler Gross who decided to film their grandparents, Roman and Ruth Blank known as Popi and Nani, to document their remarkable history together. Ruth and Roman have been married for 65 years. They survived a concentration camp, moving to the USA, raising a family, while also having this long-lasting relationship.
At the age of 95, Roman reveals “most painful testimony” about his life that tests what appears to be an invincible union. Roman is gay; he has been since before him and Nani moved to the USA. He describes “to be gay was a crime [at that time and one was] condemned to choose to commit suicide or to live in a closet… I decided to exist in a world that did not understand… human nature.” For decades he has been in pain; no one knew of his sexual orientation because he never talked about it.
However, Ruth knew Roman was gay. She found out Roman had an affair with a man decades before, but opted to stay with him for the sake of their family. Ruth describes Roman as “the love of my life,” but also mentions how he loved her as a ‘brother.’ Yet they both decided to live and stay together all this time.
Now in his 90s, Roman decides to explore his sexuality. His family rallies around him and take him to an LBGT centre to obtain support from the community. Their family wants Ruth to accept that Roman is gay. For Ruth this is not so simple since Roman basically created a very co-dependent relationship between the two of them. As well, Ruth has now developed symptoms of dementia. It is all so bittersweet, and matters of the heart are never so simple.
Brandon and Skyler Gross have made this feature documentary to honour their grandparents. In doing so, they have created a very touching portrait of Ruth and Roman. The family has tried their best to support them both, so they can live their last years together somewhat happy. Ultimately, the film reminds us of very core values of what makes us human beings: the need and desire to love and be loved.
On My Way Out opens the Human Rights Watch Film Festival on April 18th, 8pm at TIFF Bell Lightbox. Executive producer Barry Avrich will introduce the film. A panel discussion will follow, including Eagle Canada Human Rights Trust’s Senior Advisory Council Member Robert Nelder, Author and Two-Spirit Ojibwa-Cree Elder Ma-Nee Chacaby, and HRW LGTB Program Director Graeme Reid. Moderated by HRW Deputy Executive Director for Media Nic Dawes.
For festival details and to purchase tickets, please visit tiff.net.