Red Trees

A documentary by Marina Willer

Hayley Duszynski
Jul 19, 2018 · 5 min read
Red Trees — by Marina Willer

As part of the What Design Can Do conference I went to a screening of a documentary film called Red Trees. Usually artsy documentary films are not my thing, but I was particularly interested in this film as it based on the journey of survivors from the Nazi occupation from Eastern Europe. I am very interested in stories based around WWII survivors as my own grandparents were forced out of their homes in Poland by Nazi soldiers.

This film was created by Marina Willer a graphic designer and the first female partner at Pentagram, one of the largest and successful graphic design agencies in the world. To work at such a company and create a film with an incredible story makes her even more of an inspiration to me.

Marina Willer, Moveablefest

WWII as we know was an incredible tragedy affecting millions of people worldwide each one with their own story.

Every story is unique and can be emotionally difficult to tell, it took years before I discovered what happened to my own grandparents and even now I still don’t know the full story.

The aim of the film was for Marina to explore her father — Alfred’s story and go back to the place of her origins. To be able to share this story with the world makes this film for me even more special. Marina didn’t find out what happened to her father until she took him and her brother on a trip back to the Czech Republic for his 75th birthday, this inspired Alfred to write his memoirs which in turn inspired Marina to create this film.

Marina Willer, Cohen Media Group

The title Red Trees comes from the fact that Alfred is red green colourblind meaning he sees green trees as a red colour and red strawberries as a green colour. This also relates to the idea that Alfred does not see differences in colour in terms of ethnicity and nationality, coming from a mixed background he believes that people should not originate from one place only.

The world is full of diversity and culture and we should all embrace it.

This is reflected within Marina as well, as this film was originally a political statement about the state of the refugee crisis, she wanted to create a positive reaction towards multicultural people and diversity.

The style of this film is very specific, the tone is hopeful but yet doesn’t hide from the sad truth of the reality that a lot of people were killed. The film itself is shot in a very interesting way, many of the scenes are shot from one angle and the film also goes back to old footage when Marina, her brother and father went back to the Czech Republic to trace Alfred’s old life.

Alfred was born in Kaznějov a town in the Plzeň region of the Czech Republic where he had a happy childhood. His father worked in a factory and helped create the formula for synthetic citric acid. When Germany invaded the Czech Republic his father like most Jewish workers was fired and they lost their home. The family moved to Prague where they lived with friends, we find out in the film that these friends in Prague were deported to Auschwitz. As are all of Alfred’s Childhood friends. His family were bought more time due to the fact that his mother was a Christian but their passports were stolen during a raid, meaning they could not escape.

The film also talks about Alfred’s position during the Prague uprising and the horrors he witnessed. After the war finished Alfred decided to join his brother in Brazil. Brazil is a country rich in diversity, wildlife and a completely different atmosphere from war torn Europe. Even though this film tells a sad story it does have a happy ending. Marina’s family is now a blend of different cultures and nationalities from opposite sides of the world.

The way this film was shot and the locations in the film themselves show Marina’s artistic side. Another aspect of this film which I enjoyed is how she related every part to her father’s journey. There is no footage or images of concentration camps or bombings. We are taken to specific locations in the film which show the aftermath of the war.

One of my favourite scenes is based inside an abandoned factory in the Czech Republic, with hanging jackets and chains this building has been untouched for decades.

This haunting yet peaceful shot reflects how the holocaust will always be remembered — especially in Eastern Europe, there are many remembrance sites across Czech Republic and Poland which have been remained untouched for years. But this particular eerie factory strikes a chord, the slow panned out shots show the lack of presence and human interruption, almost bringing us back to the silent mourning which was the holocaust.

Abadoned factory, Cohen Media Group

Another touching part of the film is the relationship that is shown between Alfred and two of his Grandchildren, Marina’s twin sons. The interest that the children have in their Grandad’s story is touching and heart-warming.

All of the conversations recorded between the twins and their Grandad are not acted or improvised but are real added extra impact to this already fascinating story.

There is a particular humorous scene in this film which touches the audience’s hearts. Alfred is telling a story about his first visit to Brazil, during the rations of the war Alfred had not seen a banana in many years. Upon his arrival to this exotic country he goes on a search mission to find a banana, the story is interrupted by one of the twins asking ‘but how will you see a banana if its green?’ this light-hearted scene reminds the audience of youth and innocence.

Alfred and Marina, Cohen Media Group
Alfred Willer, Cohen Media Group

This film even though it reflects on the past it shows how Alfred lived a long fulfilling life, he became a successful architect in Brazil. Overall this film was not something I would expect to see at a conference such as ‘What Design Can Do’ but I would definitely recommend taking time to watch it and absorb it.

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written by Hayley Duszynski, Creative Intern at VBAT
edited by Connie Fluhme, PR at VBAT

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