Experiencing Interruptions?

Grandpa Ernest Speaks

In 1939, a young Jewish man named Ernest Lowy makes a bold and narrow escape from his native Czechoslovakia, seeking safety and opportunity for his family as World War II intensifies. In the late 1980s, an elderly Ernest recounts his life story over the course of a 75-minute cassette tape at home in New York City. It’s the first and only time his children and grandchildren hear him speak of the Holocaust, or of his life before immigrating to the US. Another three decades later, filmmaker Madeleine Bazil decides to finally do something with the audio memoir of the late great-grandfather she never knew.

We follow Bazil over three years as she charts a journey to retrace Ernest’s steps across two continents: investigating the man himself, as well as how Ernest’s life story and the trauma he underwent have a ripple effect on present-day family dynamics. Collaging together a multiplicity of testimonies, archival artefacts, and perspectives, the documentary exemplifies the fragmented nonlinearity of memory as well as reflects the complexities and layers of our own individual identities. A 29’ poetic and self-reflexive documentary, Grandpa Ernest Speaks considers the nature of posttraumatic memory; how it is transmitted, archived and witnessed; and how each generation and descendant carries and considers memory in their own way.

  • Madeleine Bazil
  • Madeleine Bazil
  • Elizabeth Ann Cameron
  • Ted Bazil
  • Julia Cain
    Executive Producer
  • Liani Maasdorp
    Executive Producer
  • Khalid Shamis
    Creative Producer
  • Project Type:
    Documentary, Short, Student
  • Genres:
  • Runtime:
    29 minutes 22 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    January 1, 2022
  • Production Budget:
    500 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    South Africa
  • Country of Filming:
    United Kingdom, United States
  • Shooting Format:
    Digital, 8mm Film
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
    Yes - University of Cape Town
  • Prague International Indie Film Festival
    Czech Republic
    March 23, 2022
    Official Selection: 2nd Quarter
  • Brno Film Festival
    Czech Republic
    March 24, 2022
    Czech Premiere
    Official Selection; Honourable Mention: Best Original Score
  • Encounters South African International Documentary Film Festival
    Cape Town
    South Africa
    June 30, 2022
    South African Premiere
    Official Selection
  • Kalamata Short Docs Festival
    August 27, 2022
    Greek Premiere
    Official Selection
  • Short to the Point Festival
    Romanian Premiere
    Official Selection
  • Visible Evidence Conference
    August 11, 2022
    Polish premiere
Director Biography - Madeleine Bazil

Madeleine Bazil (b. 1995, USA) is a multidisciplinary artist interested in memory, intimacy, and the ways we navigate worlds—real and imagined. She holds an MA (with distinction) in Documentary Arts from the University of Cape Town.

Add Director Biography
Director Statement

I have long felt that my great-grandfather’s story deserves to be shared. But I was specifically motivated to tell my family’s story in a way that engages with the ripple effects of trauma; the intergenerational transfer of memory; the ways we construct and negotiate definitions of identity, home, and belonging—and the way these things may be self-determined or foisted upon us. These are conversations I rarely see reflected/represented onscreen in the context of the 'Holocaust film'.

I knew from the start that I wanted the visual language of the film to complicate past and present, archival and contemporary. I was interested in conveying the transmutation of memory through semiotics. In posttraumatic memory, time and narrative are nonlinear, and the film reflects this, with the dual narrative and eras intermingled and motifs echoing between them.

While the film comprises a mix of digital and Super 8 footage, the historical imagery is digitally captured, and the Super 8 footage is contemporary footage. The supporting characters in the film are my father and aunts, the last living generation to have first-hand memories of Ernest, the vintage aesthetic of the 8mm footage evoking the era these memories are grounded in.

In line with post-structuralist conceptions of the archive as an experiential entity, I aimed to engage with the archive of my family’s history: contributing to this archive not just through the finished film but moreover via the self-reflexivity involved in my experience of creating it. Making this film was a labour of love and a true family effort. My musician brother, Ted Bazil, composed the original score. In many ways this documentary is a vehicle for my family and myself to further understand the relationships we have with one another and with the world at large - and how this fits into universal themes of loss and migration.