21 - 24 JUNE 2021 / EDITION N°32

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Sunny Side of the Doc
26
May

[Interview] Success Story from Europe by Eszter Cseke & Andras Takacs

The two-man crew of Eszter Cseke & Andras Takacs filmed 75 documentaries from Papua to Iran, covering war, history, tribal communities and social issues; winning awards like the Golden Nymph in Monte Carlo or the Press Freedom Award in Strasbourg.

We are glad to hear back from this powerful and untold story of a Jewish baby who was born in the death camp before the liberation and survived. An extraordinary journey of the second and third generation, breaking the cycle of trauma to free themselves from Auschwitz – forever.

Born in Auschwitz” won the Best History Pitch Award at Sunny Side of the Doc 2016. Tell us Eszter and Andras, what followed on from your pitch and which co-productions and funding partners did you attract since your first international pitch?

Now it is funny to remember how over-enthusiastic we were by the fact that Fabrice Puchault was the President of the Jury which gave us the award in La Rochelle. Unfortunately ARTE was already committed to another Auschwitz-related documentary by then and could not come on board. A German commissioning editor was literally in tears while watching the teaser, but sadly the channel changed their slots for the following year and couldn’t take any personal and character-driven stories like ours. Three years later we returned to La Rochelle already in post-production – that’s when both French and German broadcasters came on board. Understandably so, as the project evolved so much over time.

This is an extraordinary film about the long lasting shadow of the Holocaust and what it did to the next generations. The directors Eszter Cseke and András Takács accompanied their main characters for a long time. The result is a touching inside view of a mother-daughter relationship and their long road to mutual understanding. It leaves the viewer deeply impressed.”
Ulrike Dotzer, Head of Department – NDR/ARTE

Eszter Cseke & Andras Takacs, winners of the 2016 History Pitch at Sunny Side of the Doc

 

For example just a month after the first pitch at Sunny Side we filmed with Pope Francis who met our protagonist following his first and historic visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau. It generated quite a buzz around the project right after the success at Sunny Side. We almost signed an international co-production agreement but we felt it was way too early as we simply didn’t have enough time to focus entirely on this fascinating project. We were committed to produce the 8th and 9th seasons of our documentary series On the Spot – which just aired on SundanceTV across Europe.

You’ve recently signed a deal with international distributor Off the Fence. What makes it a story fit to travel across borders?

The story equally touched the Pope who’s from Argentina and the European TV crowd at Sunny Side of the Doc. There is a natural interest from Europe and North-America for such personal stories from our shared history. But a miraculous birth in the death camp of Auschwitz is much more than that, not to mention the overarching theme which is family inherited trauma. This is universal and makes the film relevant from South Korea to Chile.

Bringing familiar, well known historical events up to the present day and making them relatable to audiences around the world can be a challenge and yet we hear more and more requests from broadcasters for these kinds of programmes. Born in Auschwitz sheds light on a remarkable story of history and science showcasing the effects of inherited trauma told through stunning visuals.”
Ellen Windemuth, Founder and CEO, Off the Fence

The Connected Edition of Sunny Side of the Doc will shine a light on the imminent opportunities of historytelling. How did “Born in Auschwitz” production step up to the challenge of archive research and storytelling?

It is a tricky world. For example, in 2014 our very first pitch at Sunny Side of the Doc, “Children of Dictators” won the Sonuma Award for Best History Project, however, until today we’ve been unable to use the EUR 5,000 voucher. They simply didn’t have the right footage about the right time, or we didn’t make the right movies about the right times – we always laugh about it with the leaders of Sonuma when we see each other in La Rochelle 🙂

In our new film, we refused to use any archival footage from Auschwitz. After seeing those well-known clips so many times on TV, they have become illustrational. As filmmakers we work hard to avoid anything which feels like illustration, especially regarding a place like Auschwitz. Instead, the viewers are listening to a very personal, old audio recording of a conversation between the grandmother who gave birth in Auschwitz, and her granddaughter who’s interviewing her for a school project 40 years ago. We also created 11 minutes of animation – some of it from the perspective of the fetus in the womb, trying to imagine the impacts and impressions of the death camp on an unborn child. Which is indeed the subject of several scientific studies these days.


Could you summarize the project’s main milestones in terms of production & post-production, delivery & distribution?

  • 2015-16: Filming in Canada, Hungary and Germany
  • 2016: Best History Pitch at Sunny Side of the Doc
  • 2016-2019: Filming in Poland, Israel and Canada
  • 2018: AMC Networks International Central and Northern Europe comes on board
  • 2019: NDR/ARTE joins at Sunny Side of the Doc; Laokoon FilmGroup joins (Producers of Oscar-winning Son of Soul)
  • 2020: Off the Fence starts worldwide distribution after delivery in Q1 of 2020
  • 2021: TV premieres from Q4 of 2020 / Q1 of 2021 (including 27 January 2021 – anniversary of Auschwitz’s liberation)

“A fascinating story that clearly illustrates the very personal impact historic events continue to have not only on the individuals directly involved but also generations to follow. The film parallels the tragedy and struggle of the Holocaust and post-Holocaust period with a contemporary view on the power those events have held over three generations of a family.  It offers a very personal, very timely perspective on a story with broad implications for the world we live in today.”
Harold Gronenthal, Executive Vice President, Programming and Marketing for AMC Networks International

In your opinion, what are the main difficulties Central / Eastern European documentary makers and producers have to face to develop international co-productions?

In this part of the world we still have this false belief that from here it’s impossible to reach a global audience. For us it was an eye-opener back in 2013 when the Gaza episode of our series On the Spot got nominated for a Golden Nymph in Monte-Carlo. The competition included a Panorama from the BBC, an extremely well-done investigative documentary by Al Jazeera English and so on. Not to mention that for 30 years no Hungarian non-fiction program won this prize – so we travelled to Monaco with no chance to win. We were most surprised when our film got the Golden Nymph for Best Documentary.

The Financial Times wrote a beautiful review – still we couldn’t sell it anywhere simply because we didn’t have a distributor, actually didn’t even think of it. We were just happy we can travel the world and create all those films in our 20s. But from that moment we were able to believe that actually we can be part of this international co-production scene. And next year we were pitching at Sunny Side of the Doc, which resulted in partnering up with Autentic in Munich to deliver our series “Children of Dictators” to Spiegel Geschichte, ZDF Info, Deutsche Welle, etc. Now in the post-production of “Born in Auschwitz” our partners flew in to Budapest from Hamburg, Strasbourg and New York to discuss the rough cut. For a moment we felt our studio was the middle of the world and it was simply fantastic to get all that input from these experienced commissioning editors and chief programming officers.


Documentary film producers across the world are currently facing a period of uncertainty due to the Covid-19 pandemic. What is the impact on your work and how could Sunny Side of the Doc Connected Edition help you beat the crisis?

We are in the middle of producing an 8 episodes series for AMC Networks International: “The Danube – Against the Flow”, presented by BBC’s Nick Thorpe, inspired by his beautiful book on the river. Nick guides the viewers from the Delta to the source across 8 different countries and cultures. Fortunately the first two episodes were already filmed by the time the pandemic stopped all travels abroad. In these months we are filming the two Hungarian episodes and working on post-production while getting ready for the moment when European borders open again.

The series will cover the impact of the pandemic too along the river because we believe this will be relevant for many years. These are historic times. Meanwhile ”Born in Auschwitz” is one of OFF THE FENCE’s 6 flagship programs the company presents at Sunny Side of the Doc from its extended catalogue. After a very unusual edition of the market in Cannes, actually Sunny Side might be the very first online market where all players are well prepared to close deals virtually. The first windows are obviously gone in the German speaking territories, in France and in some parts of Central-Europe – but most worldwide rights are available, including North America.


BORN IN AUSCHWITZ (available versions: 58′ & 78′ min)

 

Born in Auschwitz is a film about Inherited Family Trauma that seeks the possibility of healing in a parent-child relationship.
In May 1944 a young Jewish woman arrived in Auschwitz. She was 2 months pregnant and immediately got selected by Dr. Mengele for medical experiments… Her baby was born with 1 kg, to be hidden for five long weeks before the liberation of the death camp.
She not only inherited the trauma of the Holocaust but passed it on to her daughter while trying to raise a survivor. Her daughter became ultra-Orthodox and works as a cancer researcher. Now she goes out of her way to stop the trauma and not to pass it on to her own children.
Mother and daughter are dealing with the past off the beaten path, traveling to places they never wanted to return to, meeting people they never imagined connecting with, from German psychotherapists to Pope Francis. The directors follow the story of these fascinating women as they discover the Holocaust’s long shadow on three generations.

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