Former investigative journalist and first-time director Catherine Lurie-Alt hits the ground running with her debut documentary Back to Berlin, a touching tribute to those affected by modern day’s worst atrocity.
The Maccabiah Games (or ‘Jewish Olympics’), held every four years, were established in 1912 to give Jews the opportunity to take part in a celebratory sporting event. Antisemitism was spreading fast across Europe, making competing difficult or impossible; the Games were considered an outlet for those who had trained hard. To gather support for the event, large motorcycle rallies took place through European cities, spreading the word of the Games and encouraging people to take part.
In 2015, it was announced that the Games would be held in Berlin, at the site of the Nazi Olympics of 1936. To mark the occasion and to honour those who had rallied previously, a group – made up of survivors of the Holocaust, their friends and family, and competing athletes – loaded up their bikes and rode from Tel Aviv to Berlin, carrying the torch that would light the beacon to mark the start of the Games.
Current-day footage of the bikers crossing country lines, visiting places marred by WWII, is cut with archive clips taken at the time. Photo stills of Nazis in uniform, parading through the streets. Mothers and their children climbing out of train carriages, arriving at one of the many concentration camps. One harrowing image of a soldier holding a gun to the head of an innocent man, knelt above an open grave. Lurie-Alt handles the huge responsibility of getting the tone just right with ease, giving the audience enough of the past to make it real, whilst showcasing the stories of those affected in a tender, sensitive way.
Back to Berlin‘s story is as important now as it was back then. In a time of moral uncertainty and rising tension, this documentary shines a bright light on the world’s dark past, a stark reminder to never turn back that way.
Back to Berlin arrives in UK cinemas now.