Verve Pictures are pleased to announce that they will release Holocaust documentary, BACK TO BERLIN in UK cinemas from 23rd November.
Directed by Catherine Lurie, BACK TO BERLIN follows the incredible journey of eleven motorcyclists across nine countries & 4,500 km as they undertake a mission to take the Maccabiah torch from Israel to Olympiastadion, site of the infamous 1936 Berlin Olympics, for the first Jewish Olympic Games on German soil since WW2. They retrace the heroic journeys of the original 1930’s Maccabiah riders and discover how they or their families survived or perished in the Holocaust.
Narrated by Jason Isaacs (Harry Potter Saga, The Death of Stalin, Star Trek: Discovery) and mixing archival footage with the 2015 journey the film juxtapositions the present and past as the underlying thread of the film.
BACK TO BERLIN is a cautionary tale but it’s also a story of reconciliation and hope. It is a story of defiance and survival. The core group of bikers are comprised of nine Israelis and two Diaspora Jews. Two are survivors, seven are descendants of Holocaust survivors, and one is a grandson of the original 1930’s Maccabi Bikers. We also learn how a biker’s grandmother survives Auschwitz as she reveals her escape from the Death March.
The film has been selected for the Shanghai International Film Festival 2018, the Washington Jewish Film Festival 2018, the Hong Kong Jewish Film Festival 2018, Stamford Jewish Film Festival 2018 and Chicago Festival of Israeli Cinema 2018 in the US and also the Thessaloniki International Documentary Festival 2019.
Director Catherine Lurie said: “This has been a project of passion. When I heard that Germany would host the Summer Maccabi Games I decided to capture an ironic moment. I would create a 21st Century mission to confront the past and address the present. We would deliver the torch and fly the Israeli flag defiantly against injustice and intolerance. It would be a journey to show how life for the Jews has changed. And how it has not. As populist movements once again rear their ugly heads, I believe that Back to Berlin is topical, relevant and delivers an important message.”
BACK TO BERLIN is released in UK cinemas on 23rd November
In the summer of 2015, the European Maccabi Games, also known as the Jewish Olympics were held on German soil for the first time since WW2. Such an event, at a German venue, was once inconceivable. Yet the moment had arrived, and these 2015 Games were hosted at the Waldbühne Stadion, site of Hitler’s infamous 1936 Berlin Olympics. For Producer/Director, Catherine Lurie, this seminal event demanded the creation of a mission to take the Maccabiah torch from Israel to Berlin for the Opening Ceremony . There is an historical precedent for the modern day Maccabiah mission. In 1930, 1931 and 1935, in one of the most innovative PR exercises of all time, Maccabiah Riders set out from the British Mandate of Palestine to all corners of Europe and America in search of Jewish athletes for the first Maccabiah Games in Tel-Aviv in 1932. The 2015 Maccabiah riders would follow in their tracks but this time taking a detour via Auschwitz.
The “Back to Berlin” cameras follow eleven modern motorcyclists, astride powerful German made BMW machines, on an epic journey across nine countries. In the twenty-four day, 4,500 km journey, the bikers proudly fly the Israeli flag despite stormy weather, unbearable heat facing the increasing threat of anti-Semitism and populist intolerance in 21st Century Europe. At times the threat is palpable and the bikers require police protection. But the unexpected emotional toll is when the journey detours into the dark genocidal past. It is only the winds of freedom and power of their throttling machines that propel them on their mission to reach their destination.
The core group of bikers is comprised of nine Israelis and two Diaspora Jews, including two women. They are photojournalists, a TV host, a physicist, a farmer, a surgeon, an inventor, an architect and an art dealer. Seven are descendants of Holocaust survivors, two are actual survivors and two are grandsons of original 1930’s Maccabi Riders. They all have a personal reason for participating in the mission. Gal joins the ride to pay tribute to his grandfather, who was one of the 1935 Riders, and to “close a circle”.
As individuals, the bikers are painfully aware of the Third Reich horrors, however, being present as a group at the very places where family and friends were exterminated become wrenchingly real. So they sit at a rail siding in Thessaloniki, cooped up in a boiling hot cattle car, trying to imagine the intense physical and mental suffering as Kobi tells of his grandmother’s ordeal. In Bucharest they learn how Marco’s uncle was shot and left naked in the snow by the Romanian fascists. En route to Budapest, the bikers share moments with Syrian refugees separated by newly erected high barbed wire fencing as Hungary closes its border with Serbia.
There were no words of comfort as they inspect the industrial death machine of Auschwitz. And the viewer is a witness as Yoram, the Holocaust survivor, tells his adult son, Danny, for the first time, what he witnessed and how he escaped the Holocaust. His love for his family and his incredible humour is uplifting and inspirational. At Mila 18 they pay homage to the lives lost fighting the Germans in the Warsaw Uprising. They stop at Lodz and at Theresienstadt they honour Maccabi players who participated in the last football match, captured in a Nazi propaganda film, before they and the inmates were shipped to their deaths.
These are such poignant cinematic moments before their cathartic arrival in Berlin. The film uses Archival footage to take the present into the past focussing on key characters to link the 1936 Olympics, the Maccabi Games and the Holocaust.
Producer/Director Catherine Lurie recognized both the reflective irony of Jews returning to the place of their debasement, but now as a nation and athletic victors. “Back to Berlin” is a cautionary tale, but it’s also a story of reconciliation and hope. This is not just simply a Jewish story. It is a story of defiance and survival and of people overcoming the worst from fellow man to restate our common humanity.