The Yale Latin and Iberian Film Festival welcomes twenty directors from ten countries
The hybrid festival will end on November 13. One film featured grappling with the trauma of a Holocaust survivor and the legacy inherited from a Nazi’s grandson.
Courtesy of Yale University
Bernhard Hetzenhauer is an accomplished director. But in its last version, “And there was fire in the center of the Earth”, Hetzenhauer places himself in front of the camera, becoming his own documentary subject.
Hetzenhauer’s film screened at the Yale Latin and Iberian Film Festival, which returned to campus for its 13th year on Nov. 7 and will wrap Nov. 13. According to Asia Neupane, program director of the Councils of Latin American and Iberian Studies and European Studies, the event will screen more than 70 films and bring together more than 20 directors on campus.
LIFFY remained a hybrid film festival this year, with online and offline screenings.
“We’re really invested in being back in person, and also giving people around the world more access to be able to watch movies,” Neupane said. “We have had great success with [online screening] last year… Thousands of people watched our films from all over the world.
The LIFFY 2022 Jury is made up of three jurors: Dahlia Fischbein, Miguel Rueda and Tatiana Rojas Ponce. The three members have a long experience of documentary production, multimedia creation and cultural activism. With over hundreds of film submissions, approximately 70 films were chosen for screening.
Leo Mateus ’24, a student on the LIFFY staff, hopes the six-week film festival will introduce students to Latin American creativity and art in general. He pointed out that Latin American films cover themes and stories not commonly featured in American media.
“For me, it’s about bringing the space to speak Spanish or creativity from Latin America to Yale.” Mateus continued, “The film industry in Latin America is somewhat less restrictive and covers, in general, issues such as indigenous struggle and conflict in Latin America. It’s an important thing to bring to school because a lot of the media here doesn’t cover that stuff.
Lecturer in Spanish, Margherita Tórtora, founded LIFFY in 2015 and has since worked as the event’s executive director. Previously, she was the former director of the New England Festival of Ibero-American Films from 2010 to 2014.
“And There Was Fire in the Center of the Earth” tells the story of Vera Kohn, a German-Jewish woman who moved from Czechoslovakia to Quito, Ecuador, as a Holocaust survivor. Hetzenhauer said another film festival encouraged him to meet Vera Kohn, a “witch,” “shaman” therapist who was approaching a hundred years in her life.
Tórtora praised Hetzenhauer’s storytelling abilities.
“I thought it was beautifully done, because he interviews Vera with a lot of tenderness and really lets her do the talking,” Tórtora said. “He doesn’t interrupt her much. We really hear her story and hear how much she appreciates Ecuador, its people and how they have accepted her. It is simply beautiful to see the story of a German Jewish immigrant in Ecuador, and how grateful she is for the acceptance and love she has received in this country.
The film ultimately explored the parallel experiences of Kohn dealing with the trauma of being a Holocaust survivor and Hetzenhauer struggling to understand his own inherited heritage as the grandson of an SS officer. The film was originally intended to focus on the daily life of the nearly century-old “witch” therapist, but Hetzenauer then moved on camera and became the second subject of the documentary.
“And it was never possible to do an interview without her constantly being aware of it,” Hetzenhauer said. “I said, ‘Okay, I have to get in front of the camera so she can focus on me and the conversations between us,’ and the camera disappears because she’s not paying attention anymore.”
Hetzenhauer attributes the difficulties of documentary filmmaking to the dynamic and unpredictable nature of the narrative. The film features intimate scenes with Hetzenhauer receiving therapy sessions from Kohn.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of Kohn’s death, who died in 2012. Hetzenhauer reflected on how changing times and audiences can affect the viewing experience of a film he shot a decade ago. .
“I think it’s a bit strange because here the projection was very dark and it’s sad that sometimes [it appears as if] she has no light in her eyes”, Hetzenhauer said. “I also think that the rhythm of the editing [is something that I would change]. I wouldn’t change that slow now, I think it also depends on the fact that we’re in the United States and there’s a different visual language and a different pace. In Europe, the pace is much slower in general.
LIFFY will continue to screen films and host panel discussions until Sunday, November 13.