Oma & Bella is an observational doc set mostly in the spotless Berlin kitchen of two stately octogenarians. Oma is Regina Karolinski, grandmother of the director, from Poland. Bella Katz is from Lithuania. Both are concentration camp survivors, robbed of their families and their youth by the Holocaust.
CanCulture: How did you decide to make this film?
Alexa Karolinski: The film started as a cookbook. And I was a freelancer in Berlin with not as much work as I wanted and decided to learn all of their recipes and cook with them for months on end. And then I started a masters program in filmmaking and I needed a thesis film. So it was kind of the obvious choice. And then I made the film.
CC: Oma and Bella offer you food while you’re filming. How did you feel about that from an editorial standpoint?
CC: Was it just you doing the filming and editing?
AK: Yes and no. I had a cameraman for a couple of scenes that I didn’t want to shoot myself or I had to have release forms signed outside with other people being there. And the shabbat dinner because I’m in the scene, so I had somebody else film that. I filmed most of it, and I had friends help me with sound, and then I edited the film. I think the most beautiful scenes are actually not my shooting, but I tried my best and I improved during the making of the film, and now I love filming. I like being a cinematographer as well.
CC: Was this your first feature film?
AK: Yes, it was.
CC: Was there ever a consideration to interview people besides Oma and Bella?
AK: I thought about it. And that’s why I included the scene where they go play cards at one of their friends. I even interviewed my dad during the making of the film but at one point I decided that Oma and Bella had to tell their own story for the lack of facts. I just wanted them to shine and to make people fall in love with them. I also didn’t want to make a film that preaches or teaches. I think there are enough of those films. I don’t know if a documentary is the right place to educate yourself about anything for that matter; I think books are way better for that. If anything I wanted to make a film that makes people fall in love with two people, in this case my grandmother and her friend, and then maybe that can spark interest or spark questions or get other people to educate themselves or meet other people to talk about it. I think asking questions in a film is probably more important than giving the answers.
CC: You mentioned if you had started filming now your grandmother wouldn’t be able to walk. Was there ever a sense of urgency while you were making the film?
AK: Yes, there’s always a sense of urgency. There’s a sense of urgency at this moment that they just see as much as possible of this. We’re dealing with really old people. Now there’s a sense of urgency because I have a cookbook to finish as soon as possible. Yes, of course there is. And I had all the morbid fears you could possibly have.