The secret to a happy family is avoiding family secrets. Or at least that seems to be one of the messages of Little White Lie, a 2014 documentary written and directed by filmmaker Lacey Schwartz. The documentary, which will be shown during the 19th Denver Jewish Film Festival on February 12, is a raw exposé of family secrecy and denial.
Little White Lie follows Schwartz as she grapples with her family’s lifelong refusal to acknowledge a significant factor in her identity: her race. Schwartz grew up in an upper-middle class Jewish family thinking she was white, a result of her mother’s reluctance to confess to an extra-marital affair with a black man. Despite clear clues of her mixed race, including darker skin and tight black curls, it wasn’t until her freshman year in college that Schwartz recognized her biracial identity after being accepted to Georgetown University as a black student based on a photograph. The film documents Schwartz’ journey as the truth of her paternity is revealed, and she attempts to come to terms with her family’s collective denial.
But Little White Lie does more than delve into the complications of family life; it poses questions about racial and cultural identities. In keeping with the 2015 festival’s theme of “coexistence,” this documentary tells a poignant tale of internal integration. It also speaks to the theme of coexistence in a more literal sense, as Schwartz attempts to reconcile a broken family.
More than anything, though, Little White Lie points to the necessity of having brave conversations within the familial sphere in order to make these discussions possible within a larger societal context. Schwartz, who worked on the film for eight years, is unyielding in her desire to discuss the unspoken with her parents. The film’s uncomfortable, oftentimes emotional interviews are vulnerable and real in a way that only documentary film can achieve.
Denver Jewish Film Festival committee chair Julia Schwarz says Little White Lie is one of many films at the upcoming festival that discusses conflicting religious, racial, and cultural identities. Schwarz hopes the festival and films like Little White Lie will encourage discussion in the post-screening Talkbacks. Other notable titles airing at this year’s festival include Above and Beyond (Nancy Spielberg, 2014), The Outrageous Sophie Tucker (William Gazecki, 2014), and Joachim Prinz: I Shall Not Be Silent (Rachel Fisher and Rachel Pasternak, 2013).
The screening of Little White Lies will take place on Thursday, February 12, at 7:45 p.m., at the Mizel Arts and Culture Center at the Jewish Community Center, 350 S. Dahlia St. For more information or to view the rest of the Jewish Film Festival schedule, visit maccjcc.org.