In 2004, Ross Schriftman, 66, was presented with an opportunity he’d been chasing for decades.
Though he’d run for office in the past, he’d never had a chance to run for Congress, a dream of his. Some people he knew in high places within the Democratic Party wanted to know: Was he interested in running in Pennsylvania’s 13th District? He couldn’t wait to get started on the campaign.
But it was around this time that his mother, Shirley Schriftman, started to show symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. She’d always encouraged his political ambitions, but Ross Schriftman had promised to care for his mother. What was he going to do?
That’s the central tension of Schriftman’s short film, My Million Dollar Mom, adapted from his memoir of the same name. Shot in a few days in August of 2017, My Million Dollar Mom recently won Best Drama at the Tampa Bay Underground Film Festival, beating out dozens of other dramas. For Schriftman, it feels a fitting tribute to his mother.
“She was my greatest inspiration in life,” he said.
After his mother died in 2009, Schriftman found himself drawn to writing as a way of processing the emotional turmoil of his loss. During her shiva, he’d write for hours on end, and the product of those sessions turned into the memoir, which recounted her life along with his own.
The richness of her life made sure that he was never short for material. She was head of the Soviet Jewry committee at Congregation Rodeph Shalom, and once ran for district judge. During World War II, she was translator for the State Department, worked for Nelson Rockefeller in the office of Inter-American affairs, translating State Department press releases into Spanish for Latin American allies. All the while, she was a junior USO hostess, visiting troops at Walter Reed Hospital.
Her political involvement, combined with the election of John F. Kennedy, sparked Schriftman’s own interest.
“I told my mom I’d be the first Jewish president,” Schriftman said.
As a teenager, he campaigned for Lawrence Curry in his successful bid for county commissioner, and interned for Hubert Humphrey. He studied political science at American University, and then came home to throw himself into local politics.
He unsuccessfully ran for delegate in support of Humphrey in 1972, and lost races for state legislator and Montgomery County Commissioner in 1976 and 1979, respectively. (It wasn’t all bad — he was a National Committeeman for the Young Democrats of Pennsylvania from 1976 to 1978.)
Until 2004, he didn’t run another campaign, instead becoming an insurance representative, serving as the Legislative Chair for the Pennsylvania Association of Health Underwriters, among other positions that showcased his aptitude for leadership.
After a long break, he ran for a seat in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in the 152nd District in 2004, covering Hatboro and Bryn Athyn, and he lost again. It was then that Schriftman’s dilemma dramatized in My Million Dollar Mom takes place (with some slight changes — it’s a gubernatorial run in the movie).
Though Schriftman had already written the book, a movie script was a different animal. After he realized that there were scenes in the book that lent themselves to film, he did what any aspiring screenwriter would do.
“I Googled screenwriting software,” he said.
He took webinars to learn the basics of screenwriting, and attended conferences to learn how to connect with industry professionals. It took years of meetings, proposals, and draft after draft of the script, but the movie finally became reality, and Schriftman was enamored with the final product, which he self-funded. The movie was largely shot in his own home, with a director and actors with credits in everything from The Sixth Sense to Westworld.
In the near future, Schriftman wants to expand the availability of the movie, and maybe even extend it to a feature-length film. He thinks that the movie is useful as an educational, artistic representation of end-of-life issues, and hopes to have it screened for people seeking answers on how best to approach that subject. Schriftman also recommends the movie to anyone who would find themselves moved to tears by an emotional scene involving Debbie Friedman’s original recording of “Mi Sheberach.”
“If they have a good feeling of faith in god and family, there’s a real tie-in there,” he said.
As for how his mother would like it, well …
“She would say, ‘I liked it very much but she would also say I never said that!’” Schriftman said. l