Petit Rat

New York City, New York | Film Feature

Documentary, Family

Vera Wagman

2 Campaigns | California, United States

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This campaign raised $26,642 for post-production. Follow the filmmaker to receive future updates on this project.

166 supporters | followers

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At the core of Petit Rat is World War II and its effect on a Jewish girl who wanted to be a dancer but whose dream was stolen from her. Her daughters carried on her legacy but also carried the scars of their mother. To quote Eleanor of Aquitaine..."Every family has its ups and downs."

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About The Project

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Mission Statement

I am the woman behind and in front of the camera telling my family's story. Petit Rat is compelling, important and will speak to many cultures and generations as it blends themes of lost dreams, sibling rivalry and the toughness needed to succeed in the dance world, all with a touch of humor.

The Story

Ballet training was the beginning of my dance education and I had the chance to train with Irine Fokine, the niece of Michael Fokine, at a very young age. Ms. Fokine gave me the love for ballet which would become a lifelong love of dance. But the story begins with my mother, Fernande.

My mother is a survivor of the Holocaust. She was studying to become a petit rat  (a term of endearment used for apprentices of Paris Opera Ballet) when the Nazis invaded Paris, her home where she lived with her parents, Henri and Vera. They fled and lived in Yenne while the war raged, hidden by a Christian family in what was known as "Free France."

When my mother and her parents returned to Paris, she was 14 years old and she was told that she was too old to dance. Devastated, she said to herself that if she had daughters, they would become dancers. My sister, Deborah, and I did just that. We became dancers amidst the legacy of my mother's challenging past and lost dreams.

Petit Rat is our story - a family love story that is filled with broken dreams, sibling rivalries and an unbreakable bond that helps us remember that "every family has its ups and downs."


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Costs $20,000

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About This Team

Vera Wagman: Director-Producer-Choreographer






















Vera has written, directed and produced short films including Interlude (Hypnotic Films, Sundance Channel, Film Festivals: Clermont-Ferrand, Boston, Montreal, Dances With Films), High Noon (PBS’ “Are We On”), Gangsta Camp (Funny or Die) and Jeopardy, a documentary short film about an at-risk youth program in Los Angeles where the students who trained as boxers also learned how to dance. She has also worked with Jason Alexander in developing film and television projects with his company, Angel Ark Productions. She has produced cultural events for the City of Santa/Monica Cultural Affairs Division while pursuing her graduate studies in Arts Leadership at USC’s Thornton School of Music and has produced fundraising events for non-profit organizations including Glorya Kaufman Presents Dance at The Music Center, Los Angeles Ballet, Operation Gratitude, The Wounded Warrior Project, and Art Share Los Angeles. Vera started her career as a dancer with company credits including David Storey Danceworks/NY and Pennsylvania Dance Theatre where she worked with such innovative choreographers as Ohad Naharin, Kathryn Posin, Nina Weiner and Creach/Kester. 


Petit Rat is my quest to uncover and understand my mother's past and its effect on us, her daughters. It is not only a labor of love but a way for me to honor my mother, my sister and our deep bond over an art form that is at the heart of who we are as individuals.



Scott Whitham: Co-Director & Director of Photography

Scott recently directed an award-winning documentary about Zion Harvey, a young boy who received the worlds first pediatric dual hand transplant. Plans are underway to expand the project into a feature length film. He is also in production for a documentary about a 97 year-old B-17 pilot and the remarkable life he has lived.  Scott has spent the last 25 years working with a wide range of clients in the commercial industry. Starting right out of college, he worked with several Fortune 500 companies (Merck Pharma, The Plaza Hotel and Tropicana Casino) to help create the right kinds of marketing messages to reach a diverse audience.  He continues to bring his mad skills to other clients including include National Geographic, A&E Network, AT&T, Comcast, Bristol Myers-Squibb, The Boys & Girls Club, Beneficial Bank, BMW, MASN Sports Network, Novartis and Lockheed Martin.


Having known Vera and her family for close to 30 years, and heaving heard a few tantalizing bits of her mother's story, I was eager to learn more. When she was gracious enough to ask me to help film it, I jumped at the chance. Now, having traveled almost four years into this journey with Vera, I can't wait to see it brought to the screen. Her mothers journey and her family's story need to be shared.


Russell Rothberg - Producer

Russell Rothberg was most recently named the Head of Development and Production for the new start-up venture between Awesomeness TV and Verizon making premium short form programming for mobile. Before this, he was Executive Vice President, Drama Development at Universal Television, where he headed the studio’s drama development department since 2011. Among the drama series that Rothberg developed were “Bates Motel” (starring Emmy-nominated Vera Farmiga and Freddie Highmore) for A&E, “The Path” (starring Emmy-winner Aaron Paul) for Hulu, as well as “Chicago Fire” and “Shades of Blue” (starring Jennifer Lopez and Ray Liotta) for NBC.  In addition, he also developed “Emerald City” and “Midnight, Texas” for NBC, and “Gypsy” (starring Naomi Watts) for Netflix. Russell also served as Vice President of Current Programming for Fox Broadcasting Company where he oversaw such series as “House,” “Bones,” “American Dad” and “The Sarah Connor Chronicles.”   He also provided show coverage for three seasons of “24,” including its Emmy Award-winning season when it was named Outstanding Drama Series.  Before moving to Los Angeles, Rothberg started his career as an actor-writer–director in New York’s Off-Broadway theatre scene.


Petit Rat drew me in because it expresses real family dynamics. It is where art and family intersect and it demonstrates that when you can see the path you have walked and realize that you not only survived it, you can now thrive because of it. There is nothing more positive and hopeful. What will draw audiences in to the story is this balance of desires, dreams and family expectations that we all experience.


Suzanne Mitchell - Producer

Suzanne Mitchell has directed and produced numerous long and short form documentary films, television series and content for the web. Her projects have garnered two Emmys, two Gracie Awards, an Omni Intermedia Award, and a Cine Golden Eagle. Her 2013 film Running Wild: The Life of Dayton O. Hyde celebrated a successful festival run, winning numerous awards, including an Audience Favorite and Best Documentary, before its nationwide theatrical release. Running Wild was hailed by the New York Times as "a grand documentary" and by the Village Voice as "inspiring in the best possible way." In 1996 and 1997 Suzanne collaborated with Academy Award-winning director Barbara Kopple to create the ABC special, New Passages. In 2001 re-teamed with Kopple on the four-hour special, The Hamptons and in 2009, went on to produce Kopple’s Woodstock: Now & Then celebrating the 40th anniversary of Woodstock. In 2011, she reteamed with Kopple on Force of Nature, focusing on the humanitarian work of philanthropist Ellen Ratner. Most recently, Suzanne produced Borderline, the first film to capture the live experience of Borderline Personality Disorder, a highly stigmatized mental health disorder. The film is currently on the festival circuit, including DOC NYC. Suzanne's award-winning films have been presented at Slamdance, Hot Docs, Big Sky, Sarasota, MoMA, Palm Beach, Woodstock, Sedona, Cinequest and the American Documentary Film Festival.


I was struck by the beauty and raw emotions coming from the female protagonists in Vera's film. Through their fluid moves across the screen and in their conversations with one another, I knew in a moment this was a film I wanted to produce. To me, Petit Rat combines all the elements that make a great work of art; life-altering events, eloquent dance and powerful women.


Editor - Yvonne Petersen

Yvonne developed a passion for creative writing and photography in her early childhood. She attended Rochester Institute of Technology in New York, majoring in Photographic Illustration. She moved to Los Angeles where she began her career in commercials, worked on staff at Nomad Editorial and freelanced for several companies including Rock Paper Scissors, Lost Planet Spotwelders and Trailer Park. Currently, Yvonne edits featurettes, trailers, sizzle reels, web content for Warner Home Video, Disney ABC Television Group and ABC Entertainment. She is preparing to co-edit her first feature with award winning director , Nicole Conn, who has won several prestigious awards for her short, little man,  including Best Documentary Audience Award at Outfest and San Diego Film Festival.


I have loved the world of ballet since I was a child. I was drawn to photograph dancers in high school. I was so moved by this family story as it made me think about my own family's trials and tribulations. Editing such a compelling and complicated story that invovles this legacy is a challenge worth taking.


Deborah Wagman - Artistic Adviser

Deborah’s professional dance career began in 1977 with such renowned companies as American Ballet Theatre Studio Company followed by Ballet West in Salt Lake City.  She trained in dance styles at an early age ranging from classical ballet to contemporary. She credits Irine Fokine - her first ballet teacher who gave her the love of dance - with teaching her grace and subtlety of movement, role interpretation in ballets, fierce tenacity and most importantly, to never give up on herself. For the last 16 years, Deborah has been teaching Pilates and her background in dance and fitness have made her a highly sought after teacher.  She works with dancers at every level of their careers and her ability to connect with them has helped them to become better dancers. About seven years ago, Deborah began studying ballroom dance which has been an endless source of joy.  To paraphrase Agnes DeMille, …once a dancer, always a dancer.


I became invovled with Petit Rat to support my sister, Vera, in her quest to tell our multilayered family story. Initially, I didn't want to re-examine the past again but unexpectedly, it was really cathartic. It helped me realize that you can go home again. It may just surprise you.

Current Team