Cape Town Holocaust survivor’s life captured in inspiring documentary

Triumphantly still here!

By Leila Stein

Holocaust documentaries and survivor testimonies have been captured on film since the liberation of the camps. The most recent to join this history’s critical archives is I Am Here, a new take on the survivor documentary format.

I Am Here is a documentary directed by Jordy Sank, that chronicles 99-year-old Holocaust survivor Ella Blumenthal’s life. The film explores her early years in Poland, the harrowing stories of her time in the concentration camps, and her life in Cape Town with her family.

Jordy met Ella at a Shabbat dinner, where she shared her stories about her time in the camps. He explains that the two developed a friendship, during which time he decided to make the film capturing her memories and experiences.

“We wanted to show the zest for life and the eternal spirit that she has, that almost has a sort of a positive message for the future. You know, despite everything that she’s been through, she’s able to overcome it,” explains Jordy.

Jordy and producer Gabriella Blumberg explain that they wanted to make a film that would engage with younger generations. They accomplished this by using animation as a unique story-telling device when covering Ella’s earlier years.

“It’s never been captured in this way creatively, of course, with regards to having the animation, and it’s not like a talking head, black and white documentary,” says Gabriella.

Jordy explains that they moved away from the black and white stock footage because it wasn’t personal enough. “Ella has these really, really personal harrowing stories and miraculous wonderous stories of survival,” he says. “We found that the stock footage… didn’t allow you to connect to a character and sort of walk alongside her, you know, go on this journey with her.”

The end result draws the audience into these different experiences to feel as though they are there alongside her. These contrast with present-day Ella in all her energetic, playfulness, whether it’s enjoying a walk on the promenade or celebrating with her family.

“Ella’s personality is just completely magnetic. It’s actually it’s a personality that stays with you when you leave the film. You know, she, her personality is remarkable. In spite of what she’s been through, she’s just got this remarkable resilience and this unwavering energy and determination,” says Gabriella.

The film has already connected with audiences who have been able to watch it. It recently won the Audience Award at the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival. This is an award that is chosen by the audience who vote for their favourite film.

“I think to get that award was validating and that sense of knowing, just knowing that it did resonate with people, even though we weren’t sitting with them,” says Gabriella.

South Africans wanting to catch the incredible film will have to wait a little longer. News and updates about the film’s distribution and screenings can be found on Sanktuary Film’s website, Instagram (@sanktuaryfilms), and Facebook (@sanktuaryfilms).

• Published in the print edition of the May 2021 issue. Download the May 2021 issue PDF here.

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