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In the film, Jutta Cords narrates her own story of being a teenager labeled half-Jewish by the government, and stripped of her rights to attend university or get married. Wasson draws on a trove of 8mm footage shot by her boyfriend (and future husband) Helmuth Cords that documents the couples’ struggle to survive Nazi Germany. The story is made all the more rare by the fact that the pair were able to survive the war and emigrate to the U.S., despite their detention by the Gestapo following Helmuth’s participation in Operation Valkyrie, a botched assassination attempt against Hilter by the German Resistance. Following the screening, STF Artistic Director Thom Powers talked with Jutta Cords and Wasson.
STF: What is it like to hear your story told this way?
Cords: It’s a big surprise, and I feel happy for my children to see memories in color, if you will. I think it is something that can be of interest to all young people and, having been a teacher myself, I think that that is an important and helpful thing.
STF: John-Keith can you tell me how you came to this story?
Wasson: Jutta is actually a friend of the family, although I’d never met her before. And so I was working on a different project, and I heard Jutta has this amazing story. So I grabbed the camera and drove up for a few hours. Within about a half hour I realized this is quite a great story. Once we found the footage and letters and everything we figured, “Hey we might actually be able to make a movie out of this.”
STF: Talk to me about the footage. What was the state of the footage—what was it like working with that?
Wasson: Well, Jutta and Helmuth—they’re German of course—and so they had meticulously organized these 8mm films and I guess the miraculous part is how the films survive because the majority of everything Jutta had was destroyed by various people. And yet these films were hidden in Helmuth’s mother’s apartment, which hadn’t actually been broken into throughout the entire war. It’s one of those things, it’s like a box of presents, and you don’t know what you’re getting really. So you start with the first reel, and you see a few dogs running around and somebody waving to the camera and you’re thinking, “Okay, well this is really home footage.” But then by the third or the fourth reel, you realize that Helmuth himself was an amazing filmmaker and he had a story. So I guess I kind of took up the reins and maybe shaped it out a little bit more.
STF: Jutta had you revisited that footage much since it was taken, or was its recovery for this film new to you?
Cords: No. I had thought about it quite a bit and I was thrilled when there was an interest to look at it because I felt it was important to see that not all Germans were ghastly creatures, and that there were people who did things to make it a better place when Hitler came into power.
[Q & A has been condensed and edited for clarity]