In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • “E/Motion Pictures”: Conversations with Austrian Documentary Filmmakers Mirjam Unger and Ruth Beckermann
  • Julia K. Baker (bio) and Imelda Rohrbacher (bio)


Mirjam Unger was born in 1970 in Klosterneuburg near Vienna, Austria. She has worked as a radio and TV journalist since 1989. From 1993 onward she studied directing at the Vienna Film Academy (with Axel Corti and Wolfgang Glück). Unger has made several award-winning short films that have been shown at international festivals. Her most recent documentary film, Vienna’s Lost Daughters (2007),1 won the audience award at the Austrian film festival Diagonale.2 It is based on the biographies of eight Jewish women who, between 1938 and 1939, escaped Nazi Austria to the United Kingdom and later emigrated to the United States. Almost all of them left on the “Kindertransport.”3 On the surface, i.e., based on the pure facts of survival, their escapes were successful, as were their lives in America. On a personal level, however, “there is never closure,” as one of the women, Dorit Bader Whiteman, notes in the film.

We asked Mirjam Unger to talk about her personal motivation for making this film, her experiences while shooting it, and her role as a filmmaker, which she described as that of the “ambassador between Vienna and New York City, between generations and between the present and the past.”

Ruth Beckermann was born in 1952 in Vienna to Jewish survivors of the Holocaust. She studied journalism and art history in Vienna, Tel Aviv, and New York and received her doctorate in 1977. During her studies, she worked as editor for the magazines Die Weltwoche (The World Week) and Trend (Trend). Together with Josef Aichholzer und Franz Grafl of the Videogruppe Arena (Video Group Arena) she produced her first video [End Page 234] film: Arena besetzt (Arena Squatted, 1977), which documented the occupation of the Viennese slaughterhouse.4 In 1978, the members of Videogruppe Arena founded the film distribution company filmladen, where Beckermann worked until 1985. She began writing film scripts and nonfiction. Since 1984 Beckermann, apart from making films, has published several books on Jewish life in Vienna during the twentieth century, as well as on Austrian film history. In this interview, Beckermann talks about her most recent film, Zorro’s Bar Mitzva (2006), her view of the Jewish community in Vienna, and the emotions that drive her work.

Interview with Mirjam Unger (Conducted by Imelda Rohrbacher via Email; Edited and Translated by Julia K. Baker)

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Fig. 1.

Director Mirjam Unger

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Fig. 2.

Film poster: Vienna’s Lost Daughters

[End Page 235]

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Fig. 3.

“Wo ist Eva Franzi Steiner?” (Where is Eva Franzi Steiner?)

Imelda Rohrbacher: Mirjam, when you were offered the project Vienna’s Lost Daughters and you decided to accept it, you did so because of a personal drive, the urge to make a statement about the way we deal with the consequences of the Shoah, about current political decisions, for example, the questions about the restitution of Jewish property—what were your personal reasons? Do you feel a personal responsibility?

Mirjam Unger: I did not make this film based on reason or intellectual responsibility, but because I simply had to make it, although I felt resistant toward it at first. I wanted to rule off the discussion of the Holocaust, which was responsible for the deaths of my grandparents and great grandparents. I wanted to do something more cheery. I did not want to nurture the historical burden that I have to carry as a Jewish woman. It was the burden of the collective memory that was too much for me to handle. However, I read the treatment that I received as an offer to make the film. I read it with the intention of rejecting it. But then the following happened: I was very touched, emotionally moved, cried after reading the eight short biographies, although I had intended to keep my cool. My emotional reaction surprised me so much that it changed my initial decision to reject the film. My partner supported the material. He thought...


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