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How do you rebuild from nothing? How do you carry on when there is no place to go on to? These are the questions asked in DESTINATION UNKNOWN, a sobering documentary about twelve Holocaust survivors. The documentary tells their story (in their words exclusively) from childhood – to liberation. This was the only question Llion Roberts, the producer, asked the survivors in their interviews. Their answers narrate and shape the entire documentary, creating an immersive, intense atmosphere as we revisit the horrors of the past through the victims’ eyes.
I had the chance to interview Dir. Claire Ferguson and Prod. Llion Roberts about the film.
In our interview, Claire and Llion both recollected poignant moments during filming that provided a rich and insightful backdrop to the film. Roberts first felt the spark to tell this story when he was at Auschwitz-Birkenau and was observing portraits on the wall, after visiting the snow covered barracks. He saw a 13 year old girl on the wall, named Kristina, that was the spitting image of his daughter, who was also 13 at the time. This flash of humanity and connection is a common theme throughout the documentary – it is the only hope the story gives us.
Stanley, one of the survivors, was taken to Auschwitz-Birkenau and by chance, the sommerkommander (a Jew forced to work with the Nazis to run the camp) knew him. He told him he had buried his mother’s and sisters’ ashes outside Crematorium 2: when Roberts was able to show Stanley the exact spot, he broke down and wept (along with the camera crew).
This did not make it in to the film: imagine what has.
Ferguson stated that she did not want the film to be retrospective. She wanted it to be happening to the viewer, just as it happens to the victims every single day: they remember, they live with it. Small details the interviewees recall: a bird flying away outside the attic he was hiding in (“the bird is free, and we humans are not free”), moments that they unsure why they even remember (“Schindler used to stroke my head, and tell me I would be free: to remember the Jews in Egypt”) – it all serves to create a very intense and confronting experience – one that is not to be missed.