A weighty drama that deals with trauma, forgiveness, love, and child neglect…


“Taking the tiger within us and becoming its master,” speaks volumes for human determination in a movie that is driven by life lesson after life lesson…


A well-intentioned drama that promotes healing and redemption in the face of prejudice and fear…


An inspirational tale of the human experience, from child neglect to taught benightedness to self-loathing, the film covers it all…


The messages of forgiveness, fortitude, and healing are splendidly universal…


Andrew Stover, Film Threat





The core of the film, the relationship between Casey and Samuel really sings…


They are so good together and the scenes are so alive that everything else pales in comparison…


Steve Kopian, Unseen Films





Positive themes of forgiving humanity and finding faith in yourself are prevalent…


Unlikely friendship develops, with the lonely man and the hardened teen finding family in each other…


This drama delivers on themes of faith in yourself and forgiveness of humanity…


Elizabeth Jordan, Common Sense Media





An “After School Special” on some very serious subjects, aimed at a teen audience…


Roger Moore, Movie Nation





Asner demonstrates that at almost 91 years of age, he still has what it takes…


Worth the audience’s attention and time to witness Asner’s portrayal of Samuel, a survivor of the worst the world has to offer, yet still willing to reach out his hand to a child of the streets…


Mildred Austin, Irish Film Critic





Reminder of what family looks like in the midst of a broken world…


She embodies every kid, every person, who felt like they didn’t fit in, Samuel is the savior she didn’t know she needed…


Samuel shows Casey that she’s beautiful, powerful, and beloved…


Samuel provides her salvation, redemption, a hereafter, and in her taking his hand, she provides him the same…


It’s beauty, beauty from ashes…


Jacob Sahms, Dove.Org



A redemptive story about the power of forgiveness and unconditional love to transform lives and overcome ignorance, fear and hate…


Absorbing drama…


Gerri Miller, Jewish Journal





A study of brokenness, fear, hatred, wisdom, forgiveness, and healing…


Two very different people who manage to find a connection they both need to survive…


Touches upon a number of issues of import…


In a world where racial hatred and neo-Nazis have become more visible and vocal, it is wrong to remain silent…


Cross of innocence and repugnance help us see a bit of the humanity of sex workers…


Before either can move on to a better life, they must first forgive themselves…


Big issue is forgiveness—not an easy thing for anyone…


Darrel Mason, Screen Fish





Illuminates the story of two damaged people and the bridge of compassion they build.


Filmed on a shoestring budget on the streets of Los Angeles.


Maya Mirsky,






By Jacob Sahms

Casey (Margot Josefsohn) has anger issues, ones she can’t quite explain because she’s looking at her fourteen years up close. When she finally runs away from the school where she’s misunderstood and the home where her mother’s boyfriend makes her persona non grata, she runs headfirst into the arms of Holocaust survivor Samuel (Ed Asner). She’s working the streets to get by as a homeless teen, while he’s longing for someone to love – to create a family with – and then, suddenly, life throws them together.

Tiger Within, from screenwriter Gina Wendkos (The Princess Diaries, Coyote Ugly) and Sundance-winning director Rafal Zielinski, burns slowly, stalking the audience with Casey’s roughness and Samuel’s grace. She doesn’t believe in the Holocaust; he lost everything because of it. She cusses and hits and screams; he’s patient, calm, and forgiving. They are an odd couple, but one that provides a necessary reminder of what family looks like in the midst of a broken world.

Casey doesn’t fit in, and she does everything she can to accentuate that as the film opens. She’s tattooed curse words on herself; she has a swastika on her jacket that doesn’t mean what she thinks it means. She knows her mom isn’t who she needs her to be, and she challenges the violent expectations (off screen) that exist between her mother and her mother’s boyfriend. She’s smart and oblivious; she’s fourteen! But when she makes the decision to go on the run, she explores options for friendship and family that don’t pan out. She embodies every kid, every person, who felt like they didn’t fit in – who felt like their family turned their back on them.

Samuel is the savior she didn’t know she needed.

Opposite Casey, Asner’s Samuel is serene, uncomplicated, quiet. He’s lost everything and lives in isolation. He values prayer, the synagogue, the possibility of saving a broken thing to make his own soul well. Samuel could be the Biblical Job, but he’s also Eli in the temple realizing that his lifelong end is to pass on his lessons learned to someone else (the young boy Samuel transposed for Casey here). Samuel shows Casey that she’s beautiful, powerful, and beloved. He shows her the tiger within, and in an artistically-communicated way, Zielinski blends animation and reality together to show us how Casey releases that Tiger.

The understanding of one’s place in the world, to care for one another, to make something new out of so much pain – this is such a lesson for 2020. People look around and see the state of things, and sit in sackcloth and ashes, instead of offering a hand up to each other. Instead of moving forward, finding a way forward together, too often, we scratch and claw. That’s the life Casey is destined for, condemned maybe by her mother’s choices. But Samuel provides her salvation, redemption, a hereafter, and in her taking his hand, she provides him the same.

It’s beauty, beauty from ashes.


Ed Asner Plays a Holocaust Survivor in ‘Tiger Within


Ed Asner and newcomer Margot Josefsohn star in the absorbing drama, which was directed by Rafal Zielinski (“Fun,” “Ginger Ale Afternoon”) and written by Gina Wendkos (“The Princess Diaries,” and “Coyote Ugly”).

“We tried to make this movie for many years but it kept falling apart,” Zielinski told the Journal. He first read Wendkos’ script some 30 years ago and was touched by the story’s themes of love and compassion. Observing an elderly Jewish man visiting a grave at a cemetery was the catalyst for the idea. “There’s so much anger and darkness in this world that we need more messages like this. It touched me deeply,” he said.

“Anti-Semitism is so strong these days and getting worse,” Zielinski continued. “It’s so sad and tragic. The youth of today is so clueless about the Holocaust and there’s so much Holocaust denial. The racial divide exists all over the world. I feel that the film resonates on a bigger scale. The story could take place anywhere, and I feel that it will touch people from all around the world.”

Over the years, the film was variously supposed to star Jerry Lewis, Kirk Douglas, and Martin Landau.  Ultimately, through a neighbor who was making a movie with Asner, Zielinski got the actor’s number and brought him the script. “The next day he called to say he loved it and would play the role,” the director noted.

Shot in the summer of 2018, the film takes place on the streets of Hollywood and around the city and was in post-production for the last two years. Zielinski faced many challenges in getting it made. Asner, now 91, “Has a very sharp mind, but he could barely walk,” Zielinski said. By the end of a day shooting on the streets, “He was very tired and could not remember one line. We shot one line at a time and cobbled it together.”

Casting Casey posed different problems. Zielinski insisted on choosing a girl of the right age, but faced resistance because Josefsohn was so inexperienced. “She had never done anything before,” he said. While accompanying his son to an audition, he spotted Josefsohn and her mother in the waiting room and captivated by her “piercing eyes,” he introduced himself and gave them the script, “not even knowing if she could act. But she came in to audition and became the character.”

When he brought her to Ed’s house to have them read scenes together while videotaping them, he knew he’d made the right choice, even though using her meant extending the shoot and increasing the budget. “You can only shoot for five hours with kids that age, but I believe in authenticity. I wanted to use the real thing, and I fought hard for her,” Zielinski said. Per child labor laws, Josefsohn was body-doubled and not on the set when any sexual activity was implied

Zielinski’s initial budget was a meager $100,000, which became $250,000 by the time the film was finished, but he’s accustomed to working on a shoestring. “I come from a documentary background, I studied with Richard Leacock who used low budget techniques and worked with a tiny crew, and in my youth, I made a bunch of movies for Roger Corman. I learned how to make something beautiful and magical from nothing,” he said.

“Sometimes it was difficult to get permits for the crew and we had to shoot with a tiny pocket camera. We’d shoot a scene that normally took two hours in 15 minutes. When you shoot hand-held, you’re much more mobile.”

Zielinski has wanted to make films since his father gave him a camera when he was seven. Of Polish descent and born in Canada, he spent his youth traveling around the world while his father worked for the Ford Foundation. Always the new kid at school, he hid his awkwardness behind the camera but later realized he wanted a more collaborative experience and pivoted into filmmaking, graduating from MIT with a degree in Art and Design with a concentration in documentary film. “It’s one big family when you make movies,” he said.

For the future, Zielinski has “a whole suitcase of dream projects I would love to make but I’m worried because I’m getting older. They’re grand scale projects and I hope I get a chance to make them,” he said. Topping the list are a futuristic film about the war between men and women and another based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead and reincarnation. He’s a Buddhist, but his mother has Jewish roots and he identifies as a Member of the Tribe as well.

He hopes to show “Tiger Within” in schools and to youth groups “to teach kids about the Holocaust so something like it will never happen again, which was Wenkos’ intention when she wrote it, he said.

He also hopes a bigger distributor will pick the film up after the virtual release on Dec. 18, and help with award season campaigns to “spread the message as much as possible. I hope the film has an illuminating effect. Forgiveness has a tremendous healing power on people. I don’t want to suggest that we forgive the Holocaust, but forgiveness and love will change the world.”


Tiger Within – Choosing Not to Hate

“I think God gives everyone the same gift. Most people don’t unwrap the gift.”

Rafal Zielinski’s Tiger Within is a study of brokenness, fear, hatred, wisdom, forgiveness, and healing. It is the story of two very different people who manage to find a connection they both need to survive.

Casey (played by the 14 year old Margot Josefsohn) is a 14 year old punk runaway who has come to L.A. to live with her father, who obviously is more interested in his new family. She quickly loses everything she has (except her swastika emblazoned jacket) on the streets. Samuel (the nonagenarian Ed Asner) is a holocaust survivor, now all alone in the world. His days are empty, except for the bitterness that remains towards everyone.

Their first encounter takes place in the Jewish cemetery where Samuel has gone to visit his wife’s grave. On the way out he sees Casey curled up asleep—seeing only the back of her jacket with the swastika. After he walks away, he returns and waits for her to awaken. They begin a very tentative conversation. Casey is wary of what Samuel wants. He buys her food and takes her to his apartment so she can shower and sleep. His acts of kindness make only a crack in her defenses.

Some time later, we find Casey working at a massage parlor (yes, that kind of massage parlor), and living in a cheap motel. When Samuel runs across her again, they continue to talk. They make a deal. She can live with him if she goes to school and removes the swastika from her jacket. It gives Casey a place that is safe, and it give Samuel a chance to act as a parent. (He lost his daughters in the Holocaust.) The bond they build sustains them, but it is also very fragile.

We might wonder why Samuel would create that first encounter and why he would struggle to make a bond with this girl who was so different and so difficult. He tells her that it was because he made a promise to his wife—to stop hating. And by focusing on not hating Casey, perhaps he’d learn to not hate everything else.

The film touches upon a number of issues of import. One of those is holocaust denial. When Samuel and Casey first meet, she tells him that her mother has taught her that the Holocaust is a lie. Polls have recently found that many young people either don’t know of or don’t believe the facts about the Holocaust. In a world where racial hatred and neo-Nazis have become more visible and vocal, it is wrong to remain silent.

Another issue in the film is that of young sex workers. As a runaway, about the only job available for Casey is a clandestine job providing “happy endings”. What strikes us in this story is that even though she has been a sex worker, she is terrified of a boy in school asking her for a date. She’s never had a date. She never been kissed. That cross of innocence and repugnance help us see a bit of the humanity of sex workers.

The big issue is forgiveness—not an easy thing for anyone. Samuel’s bitterness towards the world has an obvious source in the Holocaust. He lost his family. That Casey would think it never happened is appalling to him. To welcome Casey into his life is obviously a challenge.

Casey has much to forgive as well. Neither her mother nor her father wants anything to do with her. She doesn’t fit in with anyone around her. She is victimized in various ways. She has had no real love in her life.

Yet, it is not so much the objects of their bitterness and hatred that is the real focus of forgiveness. Before either can move on to a better life, they must first forgive themselves.

Film credits are often ignored when they come on the screen. The credits for this film are worth noting. The first of the closing credits are “special thanks for all the words of wisdom from” a variety of spiritual advisors, including Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Native American, and Buddhist. (There are videos of these advisors on the film’s website under “Forgiveness.)



By Jacob Sahms

Moving from continent through continent as a child, Rafal Zielinski acquired a worldview that encompassed many traditions and methodologies. His father, an engineer from Poland, moved from country to country along with Zielinski’s mother, a Jewish architect, as a builder of pre-fabricated housing for the Ford Foundation. A high school graduate of the Stowe School in England and later from the Cinéma Vérité at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he has spent his professional career with an eye for movies that force audiences to think, while making commercial films for income. Now, he’s excitedly sharing his thoughts on his latest film, Tiger Within starring Ed Asner, about a Holocaust survivor who takes in a teenage runaway and shares unconditional love with her.

“I am so nervous right now!” Zielinski exclaimed, reflecting on the way that this year has kept him from normal pre-screenings and review opportunities. But the heart of this film, that the old man Samuel could teach the young woman Casey (Margot Josefson) that she was loved and forgiven, is a message of love he quickly warms to telling.

“There is so much darkness in the world. We need more beautiful, positive energy in the world. We can move energy around with our thoughts, with acts of kindness. When hatred comes, we give love back. When people do bad things, we forgive them.”

Zielinski dives into a his world traveling history, with a background born of Poland, a move to the United States at age seven even though he spoke no English, time in Cairo observing Muslim faith and culture, and then Calcutta, Inida, with its eastern philosophy and meditation. “I was taught to meditate from the age of twelve. I haven’t stopped for one whole day of life. That changes your way of thinking, gives you an intuitive connection to people. Sometimes you don’t need to say things but feel them. I really felt like I became a citizen of the world, falling in love with it all. I could go into a mosque, a temple, a church and experience so much beauty and art.”

As a college student at MIT, he dreamed of making consciousness-expanding films that illuminated and enlightened, but he found Hollywood to be more primal. Zielinski struggled to get the films he truly cared about funded, and for thirty years he came back annually to the script for Tiger Within.

“When I read the script thirty years ago, what touched me was this unconditional act of love and kindness that Samuel gave this girl. Every year I would read the script, I would break into tears. Forgiveness!” the director remembers. :It’s such a tough subject. I really researched forgiveness, and made a documentary about forgiveness. We interviewed thinkers about it; we would go on the street and interview young people on the streets of LA and NY. 99.999 percent of them said that forgiveness had an impact on the person who forgives, but they were divided by background on the mythology of forgiveness.”

For himself, Zielinski says Buddhism processes life’s ups and downs, causes and effects, best. “I believe we’re all droplets of water in one big sea of water. By fighting each other, we’re fighting ourselves,” he explained. “What’s good and bad, evil and not evil, it’s thrown into a whirlwind. Maybe the darkness is necessary for us to become enlightened, to create certain energies. It’s a dance of many dimensions. We don’t have the capacity to figure it out. Maybe we get a glimpse of it but in the end, it’s difficult.”

“We are not gods. We don’t have the power to forgive. God will do the cause and effect, and do the punishment. The people who did evil things will never escape it, they will have to pay the price. By giving unconditional forgiveness, we’re changing ourselves; punishment will end up happening, because it does.”

As a filmmaker, the director says it’s not up to him to make a decision, but to plant ideas and thoughts in people for them to analyze. The audience sees the process of forgiveness first through Samuel and then Casey. Samuel’s motivation for forgiveness is his desire to not die with anger in his heart. While there’s much evil, especially attributed here to the Holocaust and Neo-Nazism, Zielinski brings it back to the personal decisions a person can make, and the education we can share with others to keep from being isolated and confused. He’s hopeful that his film will shine a light on that into the audience.

“I hope that [the audience] would show unconditional acts of kindness even to the people you hate. Study history, because there’s so much to learn. Not just about what is happening now, but if we can have the dimension of history, the darkness, wars, and patterns. Study, be open-minded. Show unconditional kindness. We’re all one. We think it’s me, me, me, but it’s actually us, us, us.”

With that in mind, Zielinski is hoping that Hollywood will continue to open up more, to let different people from different cultures and starting points in to tell their stories. He says that will allow for better films to reach the populace, not just the five that have the biggest marketing budget or reach.

“Hollywood is trying to be more open but it is not diverse, not very open. It is not all-encompassing, or allow people from all cultures and backgrounds, and even women. Women are fifty percent of our population, but where are the women, the black women, the latin women running things in Hollywood? Women are storytellers and have so much to share.”

“I have taught at film schools, and there are so many bright filmmakers, and I worry for them that they’ll never get to tell their amazing stories, so that we can change the world, and come together.”