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Bloodlines > Director's statement by Cynthia Connop

This film began when Ruth Rich, who I had known for many years, came to me and told me that Bettina Goering, a descendant of Nazi war criminal Hermann Goering, was coming to Australia to meet her.

I had seen Ruth’s exhibition of paintings based on her family’s Holocaust experience so I had some idea of how much this meant to her. Ruth felt the meetings could be significant and had the potential to be part of a documentary film. (You can view these paintings online at Redemption Through Darkness.)

I called Bettina and was impressed by her willingness to speak about her life and the scars of her family legacy. Knowing Ruth I knew that the meetings would be powerful and decided to jump in and film.  Bettina was arriving in a few weeks, local cinematographer Annie Benzie and sound recordist Owen Cassidy came on board……and the journey began.

Ruth and Bettina were prepared not only to put themselves on the line with each other but to be filmed - they had the faith to tell their story in the hope it would help others. A series of very intense filming days followed in Ruth’s little house in Bangalow during a tropical heat wave.

The Holocaust was not a subject I had personally explored in any depth before, so I was able to be a mostly impartial presence for Ruth and Bettina. Although one night after filming I was surprised to discover I held some racism towards Germans that had been part of growing up with Australian parents who went through World War 2.  As the two women explored the darkness of the Holocaust, facing their own individual pain and discomfort, I too felt that place of darkness that potentially resides in all of us.

I knew Bettina had a history of mental illness and was alert to her mental state during the filming. I had contacted a local German counsellor in case she needed to consult someone independently, but the opposite happened for Bettina. As Ruth challenged her she became stronger and her fear of madness disappeared entirely during the meetings. I was touched by Bettina’s compassion ‘under fire’.

When Bettina left and the meetings had finished I knew I had witnessed and filmed something wonderful, and that this was an important story to tell.

My next step after these meetings was to raise the finance for further filming and to edit the film. The funding path was a series of ups and downs. A promising start was private philanthropic donations for the time critical filming.

Early on our regional film organisation Screenworks, chose Bloodlines as a recipient of their Producer Incubator scheme which gave me some small but significant funding, and led to meeting Mitzi Goldman, a Sydney filmmaker. Mitzi became the co-producer and her creative advice has been extremely valuable.

Armed with some early interest from ABC TV, I applied to the Australian Film Commission and had the good fortune to meet Jackie McKimmie and Stephen Wallace. Throughout this time, Jackie became my main contact person at the AFC and I was very grateful for her support. I believe Jackie saw the potential of Ruth and Bettina’s story from the beginning and was prepared to back us all the way.

On the spur of the moment, with a short deadline, I applied for an AFC travel grant to go to MIPTV in France, one of the international film markets. And I got it!  So the producing side of the project was moving positively and I was able to meet with potential buyers and distributors.

One of the unexpected outcomes of my trip to France was that it enabled me to go to Berlin after the market and film Bettina, as she was on holiday there. This was a wonderful synchronicity that gave me the chance not only to film Bettina in her home country but also to get closer to her. I had no crew so it gave us the chance to have one-on-one time. I felt this helped Bettina’s continued involvement in the film and gave the film another dimension.

The AFC committed to post-production funding and this allowed me to go to Santa Fe and film Bettina at home, with her husband and brother, in weather that was too cold to film outside most days! Her brother Carl Goering was so different from Bettina – for him “it is all in the past, and better to leave it there”.

The ABC gave us a post-production pre-sale – David Jowsey was then the Commissioning Editor for the Compass slot and the film will be screened on Compass in July this year.

As director of the film I couldn’t have had a more loyal and talented editor than filmmaker Richard Mordaunt. Richard rarely edits other people’s films so I was very lucky that he decided to edit Bloodlines. It was a pleasure to work with Richard, I enjoy the creativity of editing and in many ways with a documentary the film takes shape in the editing room. Richard and Ruth through their passion to see the film made became associate producers.

The music in Bloodlines is by Coolangubra Trio, which is a local group - Cleis Pearce, Steve Berry and Greg Sheehan. From the first time I heard it I felt it really captured the feel I wanted for the film, haunting but hopeful.

Bloodlines now has two international distributors, Women make Movies in New York and SBS TV (Australia) for the rest of the world. Bloodlines first international sales recently occurred to Israeli TV and Ireland.

It was always my intention to take Bettina and Ruth’s story out into the world so it may trigger possibilities of reconciliation for others. It doesn’t really matter whether it’s the Holocaust in your past, or other family legacies, I believe if we are willing to explore them and feel them as these two women did, there is hope for the future.

This film was a labour of love from the very beginning and I now hope it takes wings and screens around the world.

Photo of Bettina on the road Photo of Ruth and Bettina painting
Bettina: "It's in my bloodlines." Ruth: "Let's paint."

 

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An Enchanted Edge Media production. Copyright Australian Film Commission and Cynthia Connop 2007. Produced in association with the Australian Film Commission and the ABC.