Vancouver January 2011:
The canvas upon which we create the story of our identity is never blank. We grow up assuming we have the power to define ourselves, when in reality the past is clouded with secrets and nothing- including our very selves is what it seems.
What if the picture behind you shifted and, all of a sudden, you were no longer the person you thought you were? What if you were to discover that everything you knew about your family’s origins was a fabrication?
Five years ago this happened to me when a suitcase was discovered in the basement of our Vancouver home. We opened it to find papers belonging to our grandfather identifying him as film producer of Expressionist masterpiece The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, and placing him at the center of a vast sphere of influence as founding director of Germany’s UFA Studios.
How could we explain the papers describing his survival from a 1934 Nazi assassination plot? Far from merely revealing the last testament of a movie mogul, the Pandora’s box contained a secret, one which our own father had kept from us: We were a family of Jewish exiles who’d erased their identities in a bid for survival.
Events and faces from the past have come for me, and I have never had as many questions as I have now. Is there anyone left alive who can answer them? For me, the answers lay in a journey to a mysterious world from long ago, the world of early 20th century Berlin where my grandfather had once presided over a cinema empire.
The kingdom he created was rich and glittering, but it was to prove as evanescent as the flickering light that lit the screens and the imaginations of his time, snuffed out by war, persecution, treachery, imprisonment and, eventually, the passage of time. Here now is the story of that light, of my journey back into the past and of a man, who though forgotten by the history he helped create, would change my life forever. UFA MAN is the story of my bid to bring both him and my family from out of exile.