At the heart of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival lies the work of some undiscovered local talent. Amid the glitz and glamour of the festival, a timeless work of art is waiting to be discovered. “Video Portraits of Survival: Volume Two” is an in-depth and inspiring look into the lives of local Holocaust survivors.
The project is the brainchild of UCSB professor Janet Walker and her students. It began two years ago, when Walker visited the Santa Barbara Jewish Federation’s exhibit, “Portraits of Survival,” with her students. The exhibit, which is still on display, includes large-scale photos of local Holocaust survivors. Inspired by the exhibit, Walker taught a class entitled “Portraits of Survival” the following year.
It was through this class that the documentary really took shape. Bringing in Holocaust survivors to lecture, students had the opportunity to hear real people telling their stories. As assigned “homework,” the survivors were eager to participate in the lecture. The students soon started production, videotaping 10-15 minute accounts of exactly what they heard. The 19 students were broken up into groups of three, each assigned to a survivor, and then began with interviews.
“We called them ‘personal encounters.’ The storytellers were generous, inviting students into their homes and into their lives. They even fed them!” Walker said.
“Video Portraits of Survival: Volume One” premiered at last year’s festival to rave reviews. While students interviewed 16 people, only six pieces made it into the film. Due to last year’s success, Walker was encouraged to continue the project, collaborating this year with fellow UCSB professor Nathan Kwame Braun and local filmmaker and UCSB alumni Renee Bergan. However, she still believes that students should drive the project.
“I didn’t want to lose sight of the students’ legacy,” Walker said. “One of the most valuable parts of the project was introducing the students to the survivors. The students were very moved to meet them.”
The film is very much a community affair. With support from Chancellor Yang, Dean of Humanities and Fine Arts David Marshall and her students, Walker has made “Video Portraits of Survival: Volume Two” into a very unique experience. Unlike conventional documentaries, Walker wanted to focus more on the frailty of memory and exhibit a more experimental tone.
“We wanted to see how that person got from the war to the present and what the effect was. We were very interested in inviting the survivors to talk about the meaning of their lives. In the context of the seminar, we thought about what it would mean to create a traumatic event,” Walker said.
While the survivors’ situations are similar, their stories are vastly different. By incorporating shorter pieces of narrative and interviews into the film, Walker made these more apparent. Walker and her crew were especially interested in the person and the feelings associated with their experience and what we ourselves can learn as spectators.
“Sometimes a feeling is more than a fact. A fact must be established. A film can be about how you remember, how you are affected,” Walker said.
While Walker created the film to highlight each individual story, the subjects felt that it was important not only to tell their story, but also the story of their people. And Walker hopes the project will keep on going.
“I remember last year there was one man who stood up in the audience and thanked me. His father had passed away without telling his story. He thanked me for getting the word out there. This is truly an incredible community project,” Walker said.
Video Portraits of Survival: Volume 2 will premiere January 30, 2007 at the Marjorie Luke Theatre at 7pm.