'I Am Here' Celebrates the Remarkable Life of a Holocaust Survivor
Last updated 5/6/2022 at 3:16pm | View PDF
"I Am Here" is a life-affirming documentary that celebrates the remarkable life of Ella Blumenthal, whose magnetic personality and spirit has remained undimmed despite living through one of history's darkest chapters. One of the oldest living survivors of the Holocaust, Ella celebrates her 98th birthday, where she reveals to close friends and family profound memories of her incredible survival in a way she has never done before.
"The (film's) title comes from a line in Hebrew that Ella says all the time when she is mustering up her strength: 'Baruch Hashem Ani Poh,' which translates to 'Thank God I Am Here,'" explained the film's director, Jordy Sank. "We thought that this was extremely poignant as she is here as one of the few remaining Holocaust survivors alive today. She is standing strong and resilient with an unwavering spirit."
Sank said that the idea for the documentary started at a friend's house during a Shabbat (Jewish Sabbath) dinner in South Africa, where completely unannounced an elderly woman energetically stood up and started speaking.
"The whole table went silent and we listened to her recount haunting tales of her survival during the Holocaust," he said. "We were all in tears by the time she finished. Then something peculiar happened. Her attitude completely changed and she was dancing, singing and joking around. She completely lit up the room. This was my first experience of the extraordinary Ella Blumenthal.
"I had interacted with Holocaust survivors before, but none were quite like this," he continued. "It got me thinking, 'How can someone go through one of the darkest periods in history and live with such an optimistic appetite for life?' This was when I knew that the world needed to learn from Ella Blumenthal's stories and the awe-inspiring way she lives her life today. I was a teenager when this happened and I knew in that moment that I needed to capture her story."
Ella Blumenthal's outlook changed the director's life.
"She has given me a new perspective on life and I hope to spread as much love and joy in the world as she does," he said. "Her resilience after what she went through is awe-inspiring and not only did she survive, but she managed to retain and nurture her zest for life. I hope that this film inspires our audience with Ella's contagious spirit, just as I have been so inspired.
"Ella's playful personality positions her a grandmother figure that we can all relate to and aspire to one day be."
Sank hopes that young people can connect with the Holocaust through his documentary.
"The younger generations will be the future of Holocaust remembrance going forward, especially in the next few years when there will be no more survivors left," he said. "I am a young filmmaker and I assembled a young team to give a fresh perspective to Holocaust documentaries, which are typically stock driven with talking heads. We made the creative choice to use 2D animation to visually show Ella's unimaginable memories. The animation does something that stock footage cannot, it paints a clear picture for the audience of moments that only Ella could see and allows one to fathom and resonate with the Holocaust.
"I Am Here" is a documentary with two messages, according to Sank.
"'Never again,' the phrase used all too often," he said. "Prejudice, stereotyping, violence and extremism around the world plague us on a day- to-day basis. Xenophobia, antisemitism, racism and basic 'othering' still remain ubiquitous. This has to change. The only way to have empathy is to have understanding.
"Through this film, Ella allowed us to unlock her most haunted memories and recollections about her experiences during one of the most horrific moments in living memory. We strongly believe that allowing the audience a glimpse into her world is the perfect catalyst for conversation and understanding. As one of the last remaining Holocaust survivors, the timing could not be more pertinent.
"The other message is one of hope. We can learn from Ella to infuse hope and meaning into our lives, living each day with zest, positivity and purpose. We all go through difficult times in our lives and if Ella can maintain a positive outlook on life, after all that she has faced, then surely we can too."
"I Am Here" opened at select big city theaters on March 11. Watch for it on a streaming service.