Bard News & Events

Press Release


Emily Darrow

ANNANDALE-ON-HUDSON, N.Y.—Documentary filmmaker Lisa Lewenz will screen and discuss her 1998 film, A Letter Without Words, on Thursday, April 17, in a presentation sponsored by the Jewish Studies, German, and Film Programs at Bard College. Free and open to the public, the program will begin at 7:00 p.m. in the Weis Cinema of the Bertelsmann Campus Center.

"A Letter Without Words provides a glimpse of Germany between the wars that is privileged in more than one sense of the word . . . mesmerizing," writes Todd McCarthy in Variety. In 1981, first-time filmmaker Lewenz discovered a cache of 16mm film that had been shot by her grandmother, Ella Arnhold Lewenz, documenting life in Germany during the 1920s and '30s. Lisa Lewenz has woven her grandmother's footage, which offers a rare glimpse of German-Jewish aristocracy in prewar Berlin, together with her own photographs, writings, and videos. Lewenz traced and matched identical sites from her grandmother's work in order to meld past and present realities on film, permitting the two women to collaborate and "speak" to one other, beyond the grave.

The historical footage shot by Ella Arnhold Lewenz is some of the earliest known color footage from Nazi Germany. Scenes of everyday life include Albert Einstein, Rabbi Leo Baeck, actress Brigitte Helm, and other future exiles. Also filmed were elaborate spectacles staged by the Nazis during their rapid takeover of Germany. Ella Arnhold Lewenz secured safe passage to the United States, where she continued to record the world around her, including the 1939 World's Fair, and also postwar Germany, filmed during a visit in the late 1940s.

Lisa Lewenz is an award-winning multimedia artist and director whose projects have been exhibited throughout the United States. She has been awarded three Fulbright research fellowships to Germany, two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, a National Endowment for the Humanities fellowship to Berlin, and residency fellowships at Amherst College and in LaNappoule, France, among others. Her projects have included a 1984 documentary on nuclear power, A View from Three Mile Island, and Idol Worship/Idle Warship, based on obsolete Civil Defense fallout shelters. In addition to film production, Lewenz has taught at New York University, University of Illinois, and the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, and worked as a documentary researcher in Germany for CBS News and the Discovery Channel. She was project director with the artist Christo and a programming assistant for filmmaker Kathryn Bigelow. Lewenz received a B.F.A. degree from the Art Institute of Chicago and an M.F.A. degree from California Institute of the Arts.

Ella Arnhold Lewenz (1883–1954) was born in Dresden and began experimenting with photography in Germany during the early 1900s. She married Hans Leo Lewenz in Berlin in 1909 and moved to the city, which remained her home until December 1938. After learning how to process her own film, Ella Lewenz started making 16mm films sometime during the 1920s. Eventually she and her camera became inseparable, and although she was unknown as a filmmaker during her lifetime, her work represents one of the more important personal archives of her time. She was one of the few women known to document the first half of the 20th century in movies, diaries, and photographs. A mother of six, she also edited, titled, and dated her films. The films remained in the family attic for almost 30 years after she died in New York following her last visit to Germany in 1954, and were unseen until discovered by her granddaughter Lisa in 1981.

For further information, call 845-758-6822 or e-mail

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This event was last updated on 04-10-2003