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The Writing on the Wall

This year, the winner for Best Short Film at the Nyack Film Festival was “Writing on the Wall” by filmmaker Rob Barrett and singer/songwriter Sam Leopold. The film features footage of refugees crossing deserts, mountains, and seas, children clinging to their parents or to a few precious belongings. The topic is painfully current, and yet, as Sam will tell you – the writing has been on the wall for a very long time. His song, written nearly twenty years ago was prescient. At the time, few saw the problem of refugees coming on as hard and fast as is now happening.

Fifteen years after the release of the song, filmmaker Rob Barrett heard it and proposed the making of a short film based on the song. Sam agreed and they launched into the project without waiting to find investors. Over the next two years, local artists, activists, and inspired individuals from far and wide, participated in the project. A local documentarian and activist, Hassan Oswald, who traveled to Lesvos, Greece, to witness, help, and document the travails of the Syrian refugees coming ashore provided footage that became the basis for the film. Gaining rights to other footage was not without adventure. Most notably, a Brazilian professor of geography living in Malaga, Spain, inspired by the video’s message, got on a boat and travelled to Cueta, a Spanish region located on the northern coast of Africa across from Gibraltar. Upon landing, she took a taxi to the headquarters of Faro TV, where she spoke to the manager, and received written permission for Sam and Rob to use video footage owned by the station.

 The video is not the end, however. In fact, Sam hopes it is the beginning of something larger. The writing on the wall, as we see in the video, is not just metaphorical. In the video, world-renowned Arabic calligrapher Elinor Aisha Holland, a local resident and long-time friend of Sam’s, is writing the Golden Rule in English and Arabic, as Sam writes it in Hebrew, while singing: “you can read it right to left or left to right, but you’ve got to read the writing on the wall!”

“Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.”

This literal writing on the wall is a call to action, a means by which today’s youth can create a new paradigm in dealing with humanitarian crises. It is a call to consider this simple, yet ancient principal for humanity, and to welcome world weary travelers into new lands, as has been the case since the beginning of history.

Sam Leopold has been making music professionally for decades. In addition to writing his personal music, he worked as a Music Specialist for Camp Venture, writing and making music with people with developmental disabilities. Work here included creating a rock band and writing songs that encompassed a variety of topics, including, notably, the game “connect four.” Sam began teaching music part time at Otto Specht several years ago, writing songs, having sing-alongs, and giving children an opportunity to experience a variety of instruments and their musical sounds. Sam has now joined Otto Specht full time and the students enjoy working with him and, of course, making music with him.

“Writing on the Wall” is particularly significant for Sam. The accolades accorded to the video are great, but more important to Sam is working towards a global reminding of the Golden Rule, especially for the young people coming of age amidst so much turmoil. Sam’s hope is that “this small effort here will inspire a few young people to inspire a few more young people and perhaps together they can make some difference.”


Sam, Rob and Aisha are currently working on a Spanish version of Writing on the Wall with additional footage from Argentina, Mexico, Texas and Puerto Rico.