Cinematic praise

Summer 2017
Ann LeSchander Raziel ’87 directs on the set of her film The Park Bench

Photo by Joe Puhy

With her new film, Ann LeSchander Raziel ’87 pays tribute to her mom.

As the daughter of the only librarian in town, Ann LeSchander Raziel ’87 learned early on that you could tell a lot about a person by what they read. But her mother, Dottie LeSchander, did more than expose Ann to great literature. She took the future filmmaker to dozens of foreign films and provided her with a thorough movie education.

So when it came time to write and direct her first feature film, Raziel, who grew up in Brockport, N.Y., created an homage to her mother. The Park Bench is the story of a librarian to-be who is tutoring a Latino undergraduate to help him pass an American literature class. Through their thrice-weekly meetings at a park bench, they eventually develop feelings for each other.

“You can’t talk about books without revealing something about yourself, and that was their entrée to getting to know each other and falling in love,” Raziel explained. “And these were two people who probably wouldn’t have gotten to know each other under any other circumstances.”

She started writing the screenplay in 2012 and shot it in 2013. The Park Bench traveled the film festival circuit in 2014–15, and then ran in Los Angeles and New York. The Los Angeles Times praised it as “a sweet tale with a smart storytelling device and charming performers.” It’s currently available on DVD and digital download, and a new distributor is making it available — of course — to libraries.

Raziel was 10 years old when she first experienced the power of movies. “They were showing A Hard Day’s Night on a big screen in the Brockport library, and even in this old, staid building, everyone was screaming because that movie is so alive!” she said. “That movie had a big impact on me — I was so excited and wrapped up in the film’s journey.”

Through Colgate, Raziel scored her first film job when the late Joseph Saleh, an executive producer, spoke at a movie screening in conjunction with her filmmaking class. Raziel asked him for advice on getting into the industry, and Saleh invited her to be a production assistant that summer. “It was the most creative experience I ever had,” Raziel said of working on Sweet Lorraine, which was filmed in the Catskills.

After graduation, the psychology and English major devoted herself to her other passion, singing, and did musical theater and session work for movies, TV, and commercials before earning her master’s degree from University of Southern California’s film school in 2002. She then worked on documentaries for National Geographic, Bravo, the History Channel, and A&E, while making short films in between projects.

Raziel had been writing and directing commercials when she decided to take the leap and write her first full-length feature. “I like telling my own stories,” said the Santa Monica-based Raziel, who’s married to composer Dan Raziel (he’s written the music for The Park Bench and several of her short films). “That’s fun for me.”

Raziel’s mother saw The Park Bench for the first time in front of a hometown crowd at the Rochester Film Festival. “She loved it!” said Raziel, who took the stage afterward and pointed out her mom to the audience. “My whole family was there, and it ended up winning the critic’s choice award. It was a special day.”

— Anne Stein