In February’s Online Short, Collin Searls uses animation to tell the true story of his great-grandmother, Rose Kurek, and her experiences in one of the darkest moments of human history, the Holocaust. Watch the film and read a Q&A with director Collin Searls below:
JFI:What inspired you to make this film?
Searls: I’d been wanting to make a film about what I learned about my great grandparents for a little while, but I always thought I’d be making some historical fiction piece or maybe even something really artistic like The Secret of Kells. I’m a bit of a history buff, and loved hearing this story of my family being involved in such a big historical event, but I didn’t think I’d ever get enough information about them to tell that story myself. When I started really thinking about what to do for my thesis film, I was struggling to figure out what I wanted to do. I was talking with a friend from my local Hillel, and she recommended doing a film about one of my great-grandparents, and right about the same time the Shoah Foundation replied to a request I submitted about two years prior for information on my great-grandparents. They had some information about my great-grandmother, and so I took this as a sign to move forward with a short documentary film about her.
JFI: What was your greatest challenge during the filmmaking process?
Searls: This was my first non-fiction piece, and I was making it with what seemed like only small bits of information. I found documentation showing where she was and when, and I watched video interviews of her siblings, but there wasn’t much in terms of what her personal experience was really like while she was in the camps. I had to guess as to what happened, but tried not to make big assumptions that would come across as just trying to create drama. The beginning, where she’s taken to the camps, had to be changed almost mid-production because I found out she wasn’t actually with her parents when she went to the camps. In short, it was really difficult to try to piece together separate little bits of information into a reasonably accurate film.
JFI: Any thoughts you’d like to share about screening this film in a Jewish context?
Searls: Several times I thought I wouldn’t find any more information about my great-grandmother, but I somehow managed to find more, or it found me. I’d like people to see this film and think about their stories and find ways to overcome the obstacles in the way of telling them.
JFI: What film/media has inspired you lately?
Searls: I’ve been struggling a bit lately with my creativity, but I’ve been looking at random animated shorts I find on YouTube for inspiration with visual storytelling. All my current animations rely on dialogue, for a large part, and may not look as impressive without sound. I’m hoping to start changing that, and start making animations that can tell a story without the need for dialogue.
“Several times I thought I wouldn’t find any more information about my great-grandmother, but I somehow managed to find more, or it found me.”
JFI: What do you do when you’re not filmmaking?
Searls: I’ve started getting into making costumes and props. My latest project has been making a Kylo Ren costume in order to join The 501st (a Star Wars costuming charity group). I’ve also been trying to do some freelance work.
JFI: Lastly, gefilte fish: delicious, or disgusting?
Searls: I… uh… I’ve never really had gefilte fish… hehe…
Each month, the Jewish Film Institute presents a new free short film to watch online from emerging voices in Jewish documentary, narrative and experimental filmmaking, accompanied by an interview with the film’s director. To watch more JFI Online Shorts, visit the archive of free films here.