Cape Town filmmaker Madeleine Bazil had a Great-Grandfather who -thirty years ago- decided to recount his life story - stories that even his own children had never been made privy to. In this poetic 29’ documentary film Madeleine Bazil unpicks the ripple effect of generational trauma and survival, and how it can be archived, processed and felt by those who are family, and those who are not: us, the viewers.
The power behind this piece is of course, Ernest. Who unbeknownst to his family decided one day that he would embark on this personal endeavour to finally demystify what he had lived through. His silence on the matter until then, therefore becoming all the more interesting when thinking about why and how he chose to express himself, the cassette recording being the one and only time.
As well as her home base in South Africa, Madeleine Bazil traverses United States and The United Kingdom to chart Ernest's journey from 1939's Czechoslovakia in World War II, to his migration to the United States, retracing Ernest’s steps across the two continents. Collaging together a multiplicity of testimonies, archival artefacts, and perspectives, Grandpa Ernest Speaks exemplifies the fragmented nonlinearity of memory as well as reflects the complexities and layers of our own individual identities. In this post-millennial present day can we really comprehend the elder generation's experiences?
Madeleine Bazil 'I have long felt that my great-grandfather’s story deserves to be shared. But I was specifically motivated to tell my family’s story in a way that engages with the ripple effects of trauma; the intergenerational transfer of memory; the ways we construct and negotiate definitions of identity, home, and belonging—and the way these things may be self-determined or foisted upon us. These are conversations I rarely see reflected/represented onscreen in the context of the 'Holocaust film'.
I knew from the start that I wanted the visual language of the film to complicate past and present, archival and contemporary. I was interested in conveying the transmutation of memory through semiotics; in post traumatic memory, time and narrative are nonlinear, and the film reflects this, with the dual narrative and eras intermingled and motifs echoing between them.
In line with post-structuralist conceptions of the archive as an experiential entity, I aimed to engage with the archive of my family’s history: contributing to this archive not just through the finished film but moreover via the self-reflexivity involved in my experience of creating it. Making this film was a labour of love and a true family effort; my brother, a musician, composed the original score. In many ways, this documentary is a vehicle for my family and myself to further understand the relationships we have with one another and with the world at large, and how this fits into universal themes of loss and migration.'
Director, Writer, Editor, DOP, Producer: Madeleine Bazil @mads_baz
Executive producers: Julia Cain, Liani Maasdorp, Khalid Shamis
Original score: Ted Bazil
Film's instagram: @grandpaernestspeaks