Animating the Past

Over the past few months I’ve delved into the world of post-production on our family project, submerged in the hours and hours of interview footage that I’ve collected over the past year.

What I’ve come up with is five short films based on our respective family groups, which include films on Yitzchak Sarid (told by his wife and children); siblings Fay Brandwein and Josh Geller; Max Geller; Isidore Shapiro; and Benny Brody; and culminating with a larger film on my grandparents, Malcia and Israel Geller (told by my mother, Ellen Kamaras, and my uncle, Marty Geller).

The films were powerful. Each story revealed a new layer of what life was like in hiding and the varying age groups of the storytellers brought a unique perspective to each piece.

With such compelling narratives I knew I had the onus to bring equally compelling visuals to do these pieces justice. I had shied away from watching other Holocaust films and featurettes. I didn’t want this project to be like anything else. I wanted to create something new from something old, something bold, something that could bring a new generation into a world they could have never imagined otherwise. Something that they could understand and pass along through generations to come.

I wanted to animate the past.

My gut reaction was that there was no better way to animate the past than through the process of animation, drawing out key scenes from the films. The decision to animate parts of these films presented a handful of new and exciting possibilities, namely the opportunity to visualize certain experiences that could otherwise only be told through words.

But with that opportunity also came a host of challenges, the biggest one being the responsibility to portray my family’s experiences in the most effective yet sensitive way possible, ensuring that animation was used to enhance their experiences rather than demean them.

The more I thought about it the more I realized that using animation to visualize these scenes would actually help make these experiences more palpable for a viewer rather than hinder a viewer from looking at something that might be too physically and emotionally graphic to bear through something like stock footage or recreations, whether it be the close calls and close quarters of the ghetto or the brutal and often tragic conditions of hiding in the forest. Ultimately, it would give us a better and fuller understanding of what our family and the Jews of Podkamien endured.

I look forward to sharing the animation process with you all and am proud to be working with the talented Ace & Son Moving Picture Co. here in New York City.

Below is a sample of some animation for an opening sequence for the short films – our family – or the “Podkamieners” – centered around the large overhanging rock, a defining feature of Podkamien (Podkamien literally meaning “at the foot of the rock,” with “pod” being “foot” and “kamien” being “rock”).

Podkamieners around the rock. Animation by Ace & Son Moving Picture Co.

Podkamieners around the rock. Animation by Ace & Son Moving Picture Co.

I can’t think of a better image, not only to kick off this new chapter in our project but also to represent our family. While there is not much left in Podkamien today as it was 70 years ago, this emblematic rock still stands, a testament to what was and what came from this town – the most important thing being the people, our family – that still remain and should continue to remain forever.

The overhanging rock in Podkamien (circa 2011). Photo credit: Sarid Family.

The overhanging rock in Podkamien (circa 2011). Photo credit: Sarid Family.