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Lisa Lewenz will present her award-winning film A Letter Without Words at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 29, in the auditorium of Lafayette College’s Kirby Hall of Civil Rights. The groundbreaking documentary incorporates footage shot by her grandmother, Ella Arnhold Lewenz, during the Nazi ban on independent filmmaking.

Lewenz also will share her story of making the film. Sponsored by the Friends of Skillman Library and the Jewish Studies program, the event is free and open to the public.

A Letter Without Words was featured in the 1998 Sundance and Berlin film festivals, and won the award for Best Documentary/Audience at the Denver International Film Festival. It also won a Special Jury Prize at the Festival Dei Popoli in Italy. It has been shown at numerous other film festivals.

The film took 17 years to complete. When Lisa Lewenz discovered a trove of her grandmother’s old home movies in 1981, she recovered a time capsule depicting life in Germany before Hitler’s regime. Until then, Lisa Lewenz knew little about her family’s history. Ella Arnhold Lewenz’s films exposed a moving chronicle of several generations in her prominent German-Jewish family. Using some of the earliest known 16mm color footage and defying censorship laws to depict a homeland that become increasingly unfamiliar under the shadow of Nazi oppression, Ella also filmed notables Albert Einstein and Brigitte Helm before their exile. Later, Lisa Lewenz traced and matched identical sites from her grandmother’s work, melding past and present realities on film, thus permitting the two women to collaborate and “speak” to each other beyond the grave. Structured as an imagined correspondence between generations, their film works simultaneously on a personal and historical level as witness, testament, and tribute.

Lewenz produced, wrote, directed, and edited the film with funds provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Independent Television Service, and additional support from the Foundation for Jewish Culture, the Fund for Jewish Filmmaking, the Donnet Fund, the Fulbright Commission of Germany, and other sources.

Variety calls the film remarkable. “It opens a window on an entire world. A Letter Without Words provides a glimpse of Germany between the wars that is privileged in more than one sense of the word…mesmerizing…Inevitably, the most haunting images are those of Nazi Germany….Subsequent Gotham footage again shows Einstein, this time at the 1939 World’s Fair, and postwar material includes glimpses of a devastated Germany Ella took on a late-’40s visit.”

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