Martin Greenfield makes suits the old-fashioned way – in 108 hand-made steps. He is a dying breed who insists upon “quality with intrinsic value” – an anachronism in our age of fast and cheap. Mr. Greenfield is also a Holocaust survivor with an urgent message of tolerance in our age of hatred.
Inclusion StatementWe are an American-German-French team aged 30 to 50 making a film about an 89-year-old Jewish tailor and Holocaust survivor. Like the customers passing through Greenfield Clothiers in Brooklyn, our story spans all ages, genders, religions, and political perspectives to embrace mutual tolerance.
About The Project
Maximilian Grünfeld spoke Yiddish, lived in Czechoslovakia, lost his family to Nazi concentration camps, and had no business experience. Martin Greenfield lives in Brooklyn, speaks English, hand-tailors suits for U.S. presidents, and runs a bespoke clothing empire with high society clients and friends.
This is one and the same man, who is now an 89-year-old fashion legend, tailor to U.S. presidents and stars, and bon vivant about town. Mr. Greenfield is a feature documentary telling the story of how one man became the other, against all odds, and how he now grapples with his own legacy.
The film delves into the story of this self-made man, his successful yet quirky business in an age of mass production, and the family matters that swirl around an enigma to many, and an annoying father to some. It is a deeply personal story touching on issues of persecution, immigration, labor, family, aging and succession.
Martin Greenfield’s road was hardly a smooth one. Born in Pavlovo (then Czechoslovakia, now Ukraine), he and his family were deported to Nazi concentration camps in 1944. Martin was liberated by U.S. forces in April 1945. His mother, father, and three siblings were not as fortunate. Two years later, the ingenious seventeen-year-old immigrated to Baltimore in search of a better life. Quickly enamored with America, he shed his former identity, learned English, and became Martin Greenfield.
Young Martin soon took a position as a floor boy at the GGG men’s clothing factory in Brooklyn, as he adjusted to a new life. Twenty-five years later, he bought the company that gave him his first job, and developed a top-rate tailoring business, with clientele to match, such as Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was amused by the policy notes the brash young tailor slipped into his jacket pockets.
Martin wanted a new family too, so he married Arlene, a nice Jewish girl from New York. They had two sons, Jay and Tod, who eventually joined the family business. Greenfield Clothiers has become the leading maker of hand-tailored menswear in America. However, the business is in transition. Tod and Jay are now running the company, while their legendary father faithfully greets customers with his inimitable smile and oversees operations on the shop floor six days a week. Mr. Greenfield shows no signs of wanting to retire anytime soon. But he is thinking more and more about his legacy, and is eager to integrate his grandson David (25) into the family business as the third generation of Greenfields at Greenfield Clothiers. With his business savvy, David shows promise of being able to help his father Jay and his uncle Tod modernize the family business, while retaining the fine craftsmanship upon which it was founded. But is he ready to make this leap?
In search of answers to life’s questions, the sons are curious to travel back to Pavlovo, and to understand their father’s incredible journey first-hand. In July 2018, Jay and his daughter Amy (27) and son David (25) will retrace Martin’s steps from his childhood home in the Carpathian Mountains of Central Europe to Auschwitz and Buchenwald – the two concentration camps that nearly cost his father his life. In the process of discovering how Max Grünfeld became Martin Greenfield, the family will also understand their own foibles, great fortune, and the power of their patriarch.
Martin Greenfield has always loved to work with his hands. His tailoring career began, ironically enough, in Auschwitz, when a fellow prisoner taught him to repair a guard’s old shirt. Upon wearing the shirt, Martin realized that “what you wear can change your life.” After the war, he bought some fine cloth in Germany with his earnings from peddling black market cigarettes, and had a tailor in Prague make him two custom-made suits. He was hooked on fine clothing, and never turned back. But Martin Greenfield’s deep passion for fine clothing did not truly unfold until he began working as a floor boy at the GGG factory in Brooklyn, where he learned every single one of the more than 100 steps involved in making a hand-tailored suit.
Martin Greenfield’s meticulous obsession with beauty and craftsmanship provides the visual and narrative structure of the film. Time and time again, we see him wandering through his factory, observing his eighty odd employees cutting, sewing, pressing. Here and there he grabs an iron to press a lapel. Suddenly Martin is enveloped in steam – an image which transports us back to archival footage of the steam-filled train platforms at one of the notorious Nazi concentration camps. Martin could be anywhere in moments like these.
Few photos of Martin Greenfield’s childhood in Europe still exist. We have access to all that remain, and will intersperse them with archival footage to move between past and present. Rather than recycling overused images of Nazi brutality, we will select archival footage which focuses on clothing, flashes of strange beauty and of mechanical precision to re-create the environment which played such an immense role in shaping the young Maximilian Grünfeld. Linked by Martin Greenfield’s voice-over, we float back and forth between archival images of a camp workshop and shots of the 100-year-old, museum-like Greenfield factory today. In this way, we will not downplay Nazi brutality but rather illustrate the extreme precision of the camps as a place of work and production, and oddly, inspiration for one adolescent boy.
Martin Greenfield is not up to taking another trip to Europe. Through publishing his memoir in 2014 and giving numerous interviews since then, he has found the closure he sought. Now it is up to his son Jay and his children to make the journey into his past and take us to the key locations, including Auschwitz and Buchenwald. Through Jay’s journey, we will witness how his relationship to his father transforms, and how the Holocaust is passed on from generation to generation. At the same time, we will experience how Germany is a very different place today than the hell Jay’s father experienced more than seventy years ago.
Our film Mr. Greenfield maintains the theme of what it means to remain human, no matter how high or low you fly, giving it a sense of hope in adverse situations. These qualities are what first attracted me to the project in February 2017, and what fascinated me so much when I met Martin Greenfield and his family while shooting a pilot in Brooklyn two months later. As an American filmmaker living in Berlin since 1990, I live in the constant shadow of the Holocaust, among the lingering guilt of the Germans, which permeates daily life in Germany. A Holocaust topic was bound to eventually come my way, and when it did, I seized it.
I’m not interested in making historical films, however. My passion is for making films firmly set in the present about how people’s lives continue to be affected by traumatic incidents from their past. This passion is best evidenced in my feature documentary Forgetting Dad (Special Jury Award IDFA 2008, short-listed for the German Oscar ‘Lola’), in which I explore the devastating effects my father’s mysterious case of amnesia has had on my family over the past twenty years. The experience of making Forgetting Dad, along with my own experiences as the father of five, have given me unique insight into family dynamics and trauma and have sensitized me to the many challenging situations Jay and Tod Greenfield face in following in the footsteps of their legendary father.
My expatriate biography puts me in a unique position to tell this story with great depth and understanding from both the American and German perspectives. Add in our charismatic protagonist, a colorful cast of family members, employees, and customers (stars and everyday people alike), along with the beautiful cinematography of our Oscar-nominated German director of photography Tom Bergmann, and we've got the makings of an enjoyable, entertaining and heartfelt film that will touch viewers' hearts and leave them wanting more. In our hate-driven age, life-affirming films like Mr. Greenfield are needed now more than ever before.
Martin Greenfield has dedicated his life to creating beauty with lasting quality – exactly my aim in bringing his story to as wide an audience as possible.
Project stage and timeline
We filmed two full days with Martin Greenfield and his family in April 2017. This included shots of Martin and his sons Jay and Tod at work at the Greenfield Clothiers factory, as well as a long interview with Martin in his office, and continued at his home on Long Island in the presence of his wife Arlene, Jay and Tod. In December, we filmed an additional day at his home and at the Greenfield Clothiers factory. We also filmed Martin and his wife Arlene in Washington, DC when they were invited to the Hanukkah reception at the White House. In March 2018, we filmed the entire Greenfield family celebrating a Seder during Passover at Tod Greenfield’s home on Long Island.
German public broadcaster MDR financed these shoots, and on the basis of the footage we brought back, has now commissioned a 30-minute version of the film. We are also planning a 52-minute international television version as well as a feature-length version together with New York producer David Kuhn.
During spring-summer 2018, we will shoot several more days in Brooklyn and Long Island, focusing on changes in the Greenfield factory (turning the ground floor storage area into a retail store, opening an online shop, and developing a women’s collection) as well as scenes which reveal the family dynamics outside the factory (ex. the family discussing Jay’s plans to travel to Europe, the introduction of Jay and Tod’s children into the family business). We will also continue our archival research, flesh out the script for the feature-length version, and work on financing it.
In July 2018, we will accompany Jay and his adult children David and Amy to Europe, where they will retrace Martin’s footsteps from his birthplace in Pavlovo to Auschwitz and Buchenwald. In August 2018, we will film Martin’s 90th birthday celebration, which will be an excellent opportunity to meet and interview many of the celebrities he has dressed over the years.
The German public television station MDR will broadcast a 30-minute version of the film in November 2018. The feature-length version will be completed by mid-2019.
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About This Team
Rick Minnich - Writer/Director/Producer
Rick Minnich is an American independent filmmaker based in Berlin, Germany. He was born in Pomona, California in 1968. Following his studies in English literature at Columbia University in 1990, he moved to Berlin, where he studied film at the Film University Babelsberg 'Konrad Wolf' in nearby Potsdam-Babelsberg. Since graduating in 2001, Rick has made a half dozen feature-length and hour-long documentaries, mostly in the US. These include the multiple award-winning FORGETTING DAD (2008, Special Jury Award - IDFA, shortlisted for the German Oscar 'Lola') about his father's bizarre case of amnesia, HOMEMADE HILLBILLY JAM (2005, Hot Docs, True/False, released in US through First Run Features) about modern-day hillbilly musicians in the Ozark Mountains of Missouri, and most recently THE BOMB HUNTERS (2015, German TV RBB) about unexploded World War II bombs in Oranienburg, Germany.
Rick can best be described as either an American filmmaker making European films or a European filmmaker making American films. Take your pick. In any case, his humorous and thought-provoking films combine the best of both worlds, and warm viewers' hearts while leaving them scratching their heads at the same time. MR. GREENFIELD promises to follow in this tradition.
Tom Bergmann - Director of Photography
German-born Tom Bergmann is a Director of Photography for documentaries, narrative and experimental films. His recent works include the Academy Award® nominated documentaries Life, Animated (directed by Roger Ross Williams), Abacus: Small Enough to Jail (directed by Steve James), Traffic Stop (directed by Kate Davis), as well as The King (directed by Eugene Jarecki), and The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson (directed by David France). Ongoing projects also include The Punch by German director André Hörmann and Don't Make Me Over about singer Dionne Warwick.
Tom studied cinematography at the Film University Babelsberg 'Konrad Wolf' in Potsdam-Babelsberg/ Germany before he studied Art History in New York City.
He has been a freelance Director of Photography for the past 15years. His visual aproach is a 'poetic-realistic' one – capturing verité moments by embracing the atmospheric tone of each situation. A deep interest in the subjects of his works produces strong filmic moments that gain deeper insights into people, situations and the human condition. Far from the loud and blatant, Tom aims to capture small signs of transformation which become visible only after a prolonged study of characters over an extended period of time.
Besides his work as a cinematographer, Tom exhibits his still photography in various exhibitions. In recent years Tom worked on documentaries in India, China, Vietnam, Nepal, Uzbekistan, Russia, Mexico and Cuba.
Tom and I went to the same film school in Germany, but didn't actually meet until over a decade later when we began working on MR. GREENFIELD. Our collaboration is based on a mutual respect and appreciation for the other's work and our common admiration of the fine craftsmanship of Greenfield Clothiers. But all loftiness aside, it's just plain fun to work with Tom and our sound recordist Nikola. We make a great team, and bring out the best in one another. Even though this is our first collaboration, it already feels like an enduring partnership. So keep your eyes open for more to come!
Nikola Chapelle - Sound Mixer
Nikola Chapelle is a New York-based Sound Mixer. He has worked on feature films such as the Tribeca Film Festival Winner GRACELAND shot in the Philippines, THE WARRIOR & THE SAVIOR about South African children refugees in the USA, and KUMIAI LAND – a feature film he co-developed and co-produced in the indigenous community of San José de la Zorra in Mexico – on ARTE and PBS documentaries including Vietnam Peace Negotiations with Henry Kissinger; on MTV International hit shows with Kaenye West, DJ Questlove, DJ Premier, Duck Sauce, and DJ Diplo; as well as on TV reality shows such as Dancing with the Stars, The Voice, Master Chef, Top Chef, Strictly Ballet 2, and with Jean Claude Vandamme in Thailand.
Nikola also has worked for Transmusical and SAFIKO Music Festivals with music personalities such as Lee Scratch Perry, The Do, Ayo, Kezia Jones, the Books; for Pro-Sound Services; and for Paradoxal Inc. His extensive travel experiences have shaped his passion for sound recording. He has an ever growing sound library from the sounds he has recorded worldwide. His clients include the BBC, UNICEF, CAPA Enterprise, TF1, France 2, ARTE, M6, MTV, NBC, Universal, NRJ 12, PBS, Sy-Fy, TMC, Paris Premiere, Studio 89, ITW, Frenzy Paris, Mercenary Productions, Diola Production, Zeddes Production, Patrick Spica Production, IDZ Productions, Tangaro, Ah Production, Shine France, Moonwalk Prod, and GTN’CO.
Nikola graduated from the ESRA NY Institute. He is a French citizen, with USA-Working VISA, born in Chamonix, raised between Guadalupe and the Reunion Island. Nikola's work has lead him to travel across the USA, Canada, Mexico, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, the UK, Ireland, Morocco, Senegal, Kenya, Zambia, South Africa, Reunion Island, Mauritius Island, Madagascar, Philippines, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Malaysia, Borneo, Singapore, Martinique, Saint Martin, and Guadeloupe. He speaks French, English, basic Spanish and basic Creole.
Nikola and Tom have been working together for years and quickly became my dream team. Nikola is the quintessential sound mixer – quiet, observant, meticulous, talented, plus a whole lot of fun to be around. Did I mention that his sound recordings are flawless?
Peter-Hugo Scholz - Writer / Researcher
Peter-Hugo Scholz studied journalism in Leipzig, Germany and has worked as a freelance journalist since 1986. He specializes in travel and historical subjects – particularly the Third Reich – primarily for radio and television. He has made films all around Europe and as far away as Nepal, Armenia, and Argentina. Peter-Hugo has researched extensively at the Buchenwald Museum and Archives for various projects, where he first discovered the story of Martin Greenfield in 2017.
Peter-Hugo, or Hugo as we all call him, has a talent for digging up interesting stories about the past. When he first told me about a former Buchenwald prisoner named Maximilian Grünfeld who immigrated to Brooklyn, changed his name to Martin Greenfield, and became a presidential tailor, I perked up my ears. Before long, we were taking our first trip to Brooklyn together to meet the legend himself. Hugo is taking care of the historical research and helping plan Jay Greenfield's trip to Europe in the footsteps of his father.
Mike Brandin - Producer (Germany)
Mike Brandin studied electrical engineering and media technology before working as a cameraman and editor. In 1998, he founded InOneMedia in Leipzig, where he is the CEO and producer. In 2004, Mike started the short film festival KURZSUECHTIG, where he is the festival director. He has produced more than a dozen short documentaries and reportage for broadcasters ARD, MDR, Arte and 3Sat, as well as numerous narrative shorts.
Mike and Hugo frequently collaborate on TV documentaries for German public broadcaster MDR. He helped arrange our first filming trip to Brooklyn in April 2017, and is coordinating our collaboration with MDR on a TV version of the film.