Sorella's Story

Sorella’s Story transforms the story behind a single smuggled 1941 photograph, buried by history, into an unforgettable 15-minute immersive experience. Inside a VR headset, the viewer is transported to a 360  snowy landscape with 10-year-old girl Sorella Epstein.

Tragically, Sorella and almost 4,000 Latvian Jewish women and children were ordered to undress in freezing temperatures
prior to a mass execution on a beach in Liepaja, Latvia during the Holocaust. Sorella’s Story is a visceral reminder and warning of how prejudice can escalate to devastating tragedy. This impactful story
invites the viewer to accompany Sorella and some of the women as they embark on their last journey, so that we never forget.

  • Peter Hegedus
    Inheritance: a Fisherman’s Story, My America, Lili, Eva, Emmi
  • Peter Hegedus
    Inheritance: a Fisherman’s Story, My America, Lili, Eva, Emmi
  • Peter Hegedus
    Inheritance: a Fisherman’s Story, My America, Lili, Eva, Emmi
  • Jaclyn McLendon
    To Never Forget
  • Bobbi-Lea Dionysius
    Lili, Love Opera, Seasonless, Happy Android, Lost Contact, The Master of Folk Art
  • Project Type:
    360 Video
  • Runtime:
    15 minutes 15 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    March 31, 2022
  • Production Budget:
    100,000 AUD
  • Country of Origin:
  • Language:
  • Student Project:
  • La Biennale di Venezia - Venice Film Festival
    World Premiere (August/September 2022)
    In Competition, Venice Immersive
  • GM Barcelona
    September 2022
    Official Selection
  • Adelaide Film Festival
    October 2022
    Official Selection
  • Brisbane International Film Festival
    October 2022
    Official Selection
  • Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival
    Czech Republic
    October 2022
    Official Selection
Director Biography - Peter Hegedus

Peter Hegedüs’ filmmaking career spans over 25 years. He has been making films since the age of 17 exploring human stories that shed light on identity, place and belonging. His work is characterized by a commitment to social justice be they documentary or drama.

Peter’s work has been shown at major Film Festivals around the world including one of his documentaries Inheritance a Fisherman's Story being shortlisted for the Academy Awards and his latest 360 immersive story Sorella’s Story having been selected for competition at the prestigious Venice International Film Festival. His critically acclaimed films have also won numerous awards and been broadcast in many countries including the highest accolade in Hungary, for the Hungarian Critics Award for Best Documentary in 2020 and was also nominated for Best Director by the Australian Directors Guild.

Peter is also the Deputy Director for Research & Engagement at the Griffith Film School which is the biggest film School of its kind in Australia. Peter continues to participate in panel discussions and forums around the world concerning international financing, documentary ethics and directing. He has also been active in the non-governmental sector supporting key social justice organisations around Australia and Europe.

Add Director Biography
Director Statement

I wanted to be brave with this film…to pour all my energy into creating something that will go against the tide of Holocaust fatigue. To create an experience that will emotionally connect people across cultures, demographics and economic divides, to the Holocaust and alert them to how genocides are continuing to occur in our world. 

I am the grandson of a Holocaust survivor. I have also personally experienced anti-Semitism and I’ve been looking for opportunities as a filmmaker to tell stories about the Holocaust that push boundaries and engage with new audiences.

My first documentary about the Holocaust EVA (2016) explored the incredible journey of Eva Fahidi, a 90-year-old Holocaust survivor. It was in my feature documentary LILI (2018) where I got to spend time developing new visual representation to the Holocaust. I arrived at this point having also made a number of short narrative films with the interest to blur the boundary between documentary and fiction. The main character of the film Lili Gardonyi was 8 when she witnessed 199 Jewish forced labourers massacred by Nazis during World War II. We illustrated her memories of the massacre via a fictional re-enactment that respectfully depicted the trauma, giving the footage a sense of realism. 

Finding the photograph: It was through this process of wanting to land visual authenticity to the massacres in LILI that I came across a photograph on the web of a group of women and a child minutes before their execution by Nazi troops. Taken in December 1941, it shows Latvian Jewish women and a 11-year-old girl, Sorella Epstein, half undressed, in freezing temperatures on the beaches of Skede, near Liepaja, Latvia. As a filmmaker I was deeply moved by the plight of these women and felt compelled to tell their stories to elevate it from the oversaturated volume of trillions of photographic materials on the world wide web. I wanted to find a way to immortalise their stories for future generations, to emphasise how prejudice if not challenged can lead to extreme violence.

I began investigating what happened to the women and gradually came to the realisation that apart from their names, there was little recorded evidence about their lives. So, I decided to write a fictional story about what happened whilst hanging onto every inch of historical data I could find. With this fictional approach, my focus shifted to Sorella, the 11-year-old girl in the photo. To me, she came to represent the 100s of children who - like her - lived full lives, who had dreams and who had hopes but their lives were unjustly cut short on the Latvian beaches.

To try and move away from the didactic historical teachings to render a more impactful connection to the Holocaust, I explored innovative ways to tell the story. I came across 360° film technology and its use in Chris Milk’s CLOUDS OVER SIDRA (2015) as well as in Lynette Walworth’s COLLISIONS (2016) and was blown away. You could put on a set of goggles and then find yourself in a new world, witnessing the story unfold. What was even more important to me, is that I realised that we can utilise this technology to engage audiences with critical social justice themes. 

I began to imagine SORELLA’S STORY in 360° space. We shot the film in Hungary using professional and semi-professional actors almost exactly on the same dates as the massacre that happened 78 years earlier. The locked off 360° camera did not allow for close ups. I was concerned about the creative limitations offered by this technology. We had to treat each scene as if we were shooting a stage performance. Therefore, we had conducted numerous test shoots before the day of production, to get our blocking precise and to evaluate whether the performances of the actors would be visible enough given their positioning to the camera.

After our principal photography, we viewed the material we shot and realised that we were wrong to think that the static 360° camera angle and the technology itself limited our choices when it came to exploring creative treatment for our story and expanding on what was possible in this new realm. What also became immediately apparent when viewing the footage is that thanks to the static nature of the 360° footage with locked off camera, the look landed authenticity in depicting the horribly mundane and pointless nature of any massacre. No quick cuts, no close ups, dramatic music and no time to look away: only the long, drawn-out images of people, soldiers embedded in the landscape. 

Further, to transition from one scene to the next we’d wanted to avoid the conventional fades in between our scenes which I felt broke up the flow and dramatic build-up of our story. Instead, we introduced the “dark matter” concept into our story that now serves to illustrate Sorella’s world. This dark matter pulses as the story evolves moving in and out. It engulfs Sorella’s world threatening life. A key narrative element became having Sorella’s voice guide the viewer throughout the journey. With her guidance, the audience bears witness to her journey. Her voice allowed us to humanise Sorella and the other women to counter the dehumanisation by the Nazis.

What has been challenging throughout this process is to tread carefully around Latvian involvement in this massacre and in the Latvian Holocaust as a whole. I found that whilst the majority of Latvians I encountered embraced the project and without their help this film could not have been made. However, the film also made some uncomfortable and even defensive when it came to highlighting Latvian collaboration with the Nazis. It is critical to state that the film is not a historical account of what exactly happened to the women and the children. It is fictionalised, influenced by my own creative treatment as a filmmaker. One of the decisions I made was to allow the Latvian soldiers to wear a Latvian armband to demonstrate Latvian involvement even though this may not have been historically correct. However, I was also mindful to depict the fact that the Nazi Germans were the ones who literally -behind the camera - orchestrated a lot of the exterminations. The 360-camera also allowed for this truth to be revealed.

The film culminates into connecting the fictionalised world with the actual atrocity photograph that inspired the project in the first place. We have positioned our actors the same way the women and Sorella are standing in the photograph. This concluding sequence will celebrate the names of the people who perished in the massacre. The names are read out by ordinary people from around the world who are currently the same age as those who were killed - and importantly we will utilise the 360° space to maximise impact. For example, Simon Fleischer was 4 years old when he was killed in this massacre and so we have found a 4-year-old boy to read out Simon’s full name which would then be physically written out along the 100s of other names in this 360° space.