We all know Curious George - but what about his creators, Hans and Margaret Rey? German Jews, global refugees, immigrants, artists, Americans. On makeshift bicycles with sketches of a curious little monkey aboard, they rode across Nazi occupied Europe in search of a freedom that would nurture one of the most treasured children’s book series of all time.
Join us at the New Orleans JCC- Uptown for a screening of Monkey Business, a documentary film exploring the extraordinary lives of Hans and Margaret Rey, the authors of the beloved Curious George children’s books. Following the screening, we will hold a Q&A with the film's award-winning director, Ema Ryan Yamazaki.
Tuesday, October 3
6:30 PM - 8:00 PM
Free and open to the community
New Orleans JCC - Uptown
About the Director
Raised in Japan and England, Ema has always loved telling stories - first as a dancer, and now as a filmmaker. She spent 3 years making her first feature documentary, MONKEY BUSINESS:THE ADVENTURES OF CURIOUS GEORGE’S CREATORS, raising over $186,000 on Kickstarter along the way. Ema’s recent work includes directing a documentary about Martin Scorsese’s film SILENCE for NHK (the Japanese national broadcaster), and co-producing and editing the HBO Documentary CLASS DIVIDE, which won the grand jury prize at DOC NYC in 2015. Her work has also screened on Al Jazeera English, PBS, CNN, at Sundance Film Festival, Toronto Film Festival, Tribeca Film Festival, among others. She splits her base between New York and Tokyo. Read more about her work at www.emaexplorations.com/about.
About the Film
In 2016, Curious George turned 75 years old. Since the first book was published in 1941, the stories of the adventurous little monkey who frequently finds himself in trouble have sold over 75 million copies in more than 20 languages. However, the story of George’s creators is much less known. MONKEY BUSINESS: The Adventures of Curious George's Creators explores the extraordinary lives of Hans and Margret Rey, whose creative spirit and resilient attitude produced a monkey loved by the world.
Both originally from Hamburg, Germany, Hans and Margret grew up in Jewish households shortly after the turn of the 20th century. As children, Hans was a genius beyond his years and a daydreamer, while Margret was outspoken and rebellious, always knowing just what she wanted. They first met when Hans was dating Margret’s older sister – Margret came sliding down the banister and landed at Hans’ feet. Years later, Margret had heard that Hans was wasting his artistic talents as a bookkeeper in Rio de Janeiro. She traveled to Brazil, persuaded him to marry her, and they started an advertising agency. They planned a four-week honeymoon to Paris, which ultimately became a four-year stay. While there, Hans and Margret became accidental children’s book authors when a French publisher suggested they try expanding one of Hans’ cartoons into its own story.
However, as German Jews living in Paris in the late 1930s, the Reys could not avoid the impact of war. In June of 1940, Hans and Margret were still in Paris as Hitler’s troops rapidly approached the city. Caught among the millions of refugees fleeing south, the only mode of transportation they could find was a tandem bicycle. It took no longer than two minutes on their test drive before Margret lost her patience: “I am not riding this with you Hans! Think of some other way.” That night, Hans became a bicycle maker, cobbling together spare parts to make two bicycles. Margret packed a few clothes and their life’s work – unpublished manuscripts for children’s books, including the first Curious George book in its entirety. The next morning, 48 hours before the Nazi troops arrived, the Reys pedaled out of Paris. Sleeping in barns and on floors of restaurants, they continued south through Spain and Portugal. When the border officials became suspicious of their German accents, they showed them pages from the Curious George manuscript – the guards were immediately taken with the story, and allowed them George manuscript – the guards were immediately taken with the story, and allowed them to continue on. Saved by their own creation – a carefree, irresistibly cute monkey – the Reys eventually made it out of Europe just as the horrors of the Holocaust were beginning to unfold. A few months later they sailed into the New York harbor and started life anew. Over the next three decades they wrote six more Curious George books, creating a children’s book classic and a global mascot that has lasted well beyond their own lives.
The approach we are taking with the film stems from one question: how would Hans and Margret tell their own story? The documentary in its entirety is intended to evoke the feeling of reading a Curious George book. The film will be told through audio and video recordings of Hans and Margret, and with narration written in a style that echoes the Curious George books. This will be accompanied by interviews of those who knew the Reys as well as experts that can provide the relevant framework. Visually, we will use personal and historical archival material, as well as have animated sequences in the style of Curious George. Through the contrast of the archival material and the animation, we aim to heighten the divide between reality we see in the archival material versus the subjective experiences and interpretation of the Reys’ own perspective. We will also incorporate our animated subjects into archival footage from the various locations and time periods they experienced. Despite the occasionally heavy subject matter, we aim to tell the Reys’ story with a whimsical, optimistic approach, while providing the context that highlights the extraordinarily positive attitude the Reys had in facing their circumstances.
Hans and Margret never had children of their own. They simply wrote and drew what they liked – and it so happened that children liked the same thing. The Reys were very much like George. Time and time again, they used their own ingenuity to problem-solve. Later, they turned their adventurous experiences into fun stories with happy endings. The Reys’ story, and their success in creating Curious George, represents a generation who believed in and attained the American dream. Always in touch with that childlike wonderment towards life, the Reys left behind the gift of curiosity for generations of children around the world.
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