Dan Bauer, veteran arts promoter and McCarter Theater’s communications director, will move from behind the scenes to center stage when he premieres and leads a discussion on his film “Leben um zu Sagen” (Live to Tell) on Sunday, September 23, at the Princeton Public Library.
The 30-minute documentary captures the living memories of Bauer’s 100-year-old grandmother, his father, and an 86-year-old cousin and allows the family to tell how their Viennese lives — and those of other Jews — were altered by the 1938 Nazi annexation of Austria and the uncertain life journey that the family was abruptly forced to face.
After the screening, Bauer will host a discussion on the film and related issues with Paul Winkler, executive director of the New Jersey Commission on Holocaust Education, and Susan Hoskins, executive director of the Princeton Senior Resource Center.
Bauer’s new film reflects both his interest and his past. “This is my third creative project that addresses the Holocaust. It was only after a friend made that connection that I realized the Holocaust really impacted my family history and my own life. Until then I had not considered myself to be a third generation Holocaust survivor. In talking about the film, my friend (Princeton-based attorney and painter Ryan Lilienthal) told me that his grandparents had also lived in Vienna at the time and that his grandfather, like mine, had also been deported to Buchenwald Concentration Camp. Ryan encouraged me to write to the Buchenwald Archives to ask for copies of my grandfather’s documents, and it was Ryan who introduced me to Paul Winkler,” notes Bauer.
While the publicist turned director says he had a general outline and idea as to how to approach this project, he was inspired by viewing a YouTube video of Holocaust survivor Hanna Bloch Kohner on the 1953 television show “This is Your Life.” That popular program organized a half-hour production around an unsuspecting public figure who would suddenly be placed before the camera to encounter past friends, family members, and a lifetime of memories before a studio and television audience, often with emotional responses.
Bauer credits McCarter’s corporate and foundation relations manager and dramaturg Emila LaPenta in helping him to shape his questions in a way that would tell a story. He also enlisted her to conduct the film’s interviews. “I wanted the interviews to sound fresh and told to someone who had no prior knowledge of these stories, and felt that there would be a certain warmness in telling the story to a young person. I really sense that comes across in the film,” Bauer says.
Additional creative and production support came from associates Susan Wallner, an award-winning television producer and editor, and Mary Conlon, a young filmmaker and daughter of filmmaker Joe Conlon, who worked with Wallner on NJN’s State of the Arts and other programs.
While it took five months to finish the documentary, Bauer says that the interviews were shot in a single day. “I wanted to include my grandmother’s 86-year-old nephew, Heinz Herling, in the video, and he came to New Jersey from Toronto where he lives for my grandmother’s 100th birthday celebration,” says Bauer.
Among the many moving aspects to making this highly personal film, the director said one especially stands out: the discovery of family photos and documents that he never knew existed. Calling them a “treasure trove,” Bauer says, “What amazes me is these family photos survived the journey from Austria to Holland to America, which included stops in New Jersey, New York City, Boston, and, eventually Brocton, NY.”
Bauer was raised in Amherst, NY, a suburb of Buffalo, 60 miles north of Brocton. When he finished his theater studies at the State University of New York in Binghamton in the early 1980s, he joined McCarter. Since then he has assisted with numerous productions as well as serving as a public relations consultant to such state-based organizations as the New Jersey Jewish Film Festival, Newark Black Film Festival, Nassau Presbyterian Church, Trenton Children’s Chorus, and Passage Theater Company. He is also a certified indoor cycling instructor and a tour guide with Princeton Tour Company.
With a wife and two daughters, Bauer maintains his professional and personal commitments, especially collecting and creating family history. In a recent interview for the business blog Job Talk, Bauer gave a hint of what could be his next project:
“I envision doing another story with my father in which he revisits Austria; he was four when he left in 1938 . . . I think that this would be an interesting project if my father were open to doing it.”
Leben um zu Sagen, screening at the Princeton Public Library Community Room, Sunday, September 23, 2 p.m. Free. For information, visit www.princetonlibrary.org.