In September 1987, nearly a hundred people of differing backgrounds and ages (from 8 to 88), gathered together from all over France for a weekend in Alsace. All were related. Most had never met.They journeyed to the place where their common ancestor, Moïse Blin, a Jewish peddler, born 1768, in Fort-Louis, and died 1820, at Haguenau, had spent his days. The reunion was organised by two of Moïse Blin's descendants, whom a shared interest in genealogy had brought together. Every year since that first trip, a similar gathering has taken place. All the participants call each other "cousin". A bulletin is published. A "Society of the Descendants of Moïse Blin" has been established. The team of amateur researchers enquiring into their own family history has expanded continuously. From gathering to gathering, from one year to the next, the story of an 18th century Jewish family has gradually emerged, providing an exemplary account of the history of French - and specifically Alsatian - Jewry. Up to the French Revolution, the tale is a tale of exclusion and servitude. Then, in 1791, comes Emancipation and alternating phases of social acceptance and rejection, chronicled each in turn. The film takes the history of one family as a metaphor, with the unfolding of generation upon generation, leading, in the case of some, to assimilation, to being almost not Jewish, and in the case of others to a continuing affirmation of Jewishness and the attempt to preserve at least something of that tradition – even if, according to some Jews, religious practice alone defines the community. “First of the Name” is also the story of director Sabine Franel's quest. Herself a descendant of Moïse Blin, she attends every family gathering, constantly questioning others and herself, asking "Whence come you?" and "Where do you stand in relation to the world?"
The category “documentary” or “chronicle” does not accurately define this complex tale in which the history of a Jewish family intersects with the larger one of Jews in Alsace, France, and Europe since the 18th century days of their common ancestor, Moïse Blin. It’s a saga in which history takes shape through the unique quest of the writer/director to rediscover and recreate her Jewish identity in this film which questions, by its very making, the taboo of representation, the ambivalence of preserving something of Israel across the net of assimilation, the pain of recollection, and the simple dignity of assuming an uncertain future.
Sabine Franel, Director