First-time feature film director Serena Dykman is a mere 25-years-old.
In other words, you're going to be hearing an awful lot about Dykman for years to come.
A graduate of NYU's Tisch School of the Arts, Dykman was recently selected to serve as one of Women’s eNews ’21 Leaders for the 21st Century’ 2018, yet another indicator that the up-and-coming filmmaker is a cinematic force to be reckoned with already. Her first feature, the documentary Nana, is a work of wonder that retraces her grandmother's Auschwitz story and investigates how her grandmother's lifelong fight against hate and intolerance can be taught to new generations.
Through archival footage, photos, and clips, we meet Maryla Michalowski-Dyamant, who was born in Poland and survived Ravensbruck, Malchow, and Auschwitz. In the latter, she was forced to be the translator of the "angel of death," Dr. Mengele. After the war was over, Maryla devoted the rest of her life to speaking about her experiences in ways that were stunning in their transparency and absolutely heartbreaking to watch. She was determined to speak to the younger generations to ensure that such experiences would never be forgotten or repeated. Having passed away 14 years ago, it was a couple years ago that Serena Dykman, Maryla's granddaughter, became inspired to make the documentary after reading her grandmother's memoir.
"I was inspired to make this documentary after reading my grandmother's memoir a couple of years ago," said director Serana Dykman. "I realized that she was more than a survivor, more than a Polish Jew. The reason she went back to Auschwitz and told her story publicly thousands of times was so that it should never be forgotten, and would never happen to anyone again. Her activism and fight against intolerance lives on today, 14 years after her death, through the thousands of people she touched, and now through Nana," she further explained.
After a lengthy and highly successful festival run, Nana has been picked up by indie distributor First Run Features and will have is theatrical premiere on April 13th, to coincide with Holocaust Remembrance Day, at Cinema Village in New York. Dykman will appear after the 7pm screenings on Friday and Saturday for a Q&A session.
Nana has picked up a slew of awards along its festival journey including the Madelyn's Choice Award at the Rocky Mountain Women's Film Festival, the Audience Choice Award - Documentary at the East Lansing Film Festival, Best of Show Award at Chagrin Docs Without Borders Film Festival, Mary Lerner Human Spirit Award at Chagrin Documentary Film Festival, Silver Palm Award for Best Documentary Feature at Mexico International Film Festival and, among even more awards, Dykman picked up the Mira Nair Award for Rising Female Filmmaker at the Harlem International Film Festival.
While sometimes it's true that festival awards can be a little wishy-washy at best, Nana is an absolute winner.
Films, especially documentaries, can be even more hit-and-miss when they largely feature the filmmaker, though in this case the filmmaker's quiet confidence and determination keep Nana from ever feeling like a narcissistic endeavor and Dykman's own directorial expertise does a tremendous job of keeping the focus where it belongs - on her grandmother. If anything, it would appear that Dykman has at least a little sense of regret that she didn't quite recognize her grandmother's true greatness until long after she was gone, a missed opportunity to more fully embrace this woman whose story is now being told to the entire world.
Nana is a remarkable documentary, informative and emotionally resonant and even a little entertaining, a film about a remarkable woman who calls to mind Indiana's own Eva Mozes Kor, whose own experiences with Dr. Mengele have informed much of her post-war life and whose experiences are also featured in a doc this year.
At a time when anti-semitism is on the rise and political wheels have turned a potentially dangerous direction in multiple nations, Nana is a timely and unforgettable call to action to rise up and do something before it's too late.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic