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Veteran Swedish documentary maker Magnus Gertten’s “Nelly & Nadine,” a love story that begins in the hell of the Ravensbrück concentration camp, world-premieres in Berlin. Rise and Shine World Sales reps this Panorama title

“Nelly & Nadine” is the third film you have made inspired by archival footage showing survivors from German concentration camps arriving in Malmö, Sweden. What motivated you to start this project? 

It all started out of curiosity. I came across this archive film, a newsreel, which was shot in my hometown Malmö in April 1945. I never intended to make a docu about this historic event, but I became fascinated by the cinematic quality of the archive film and the anonymous faces of camp survivors taking their first steps in freedom. I asked myself, is it possible to identify them? This was in 2007. For “Harbor of Hope” (2012), we managed to identify a few, including Irene, a 9-year-old Jewish girl from Rotterdam. She became the main character of the first film, which tells the full context of the Swedish Red Cross rescue action and how the city of Malmö took care of all these survivors. It’s a film about the importance of a helping hand. But I never intended to do a follow-up.

But then came “Every Face Has A Name” (2015).

I was traveling to festivals and screenings of “Harbor of Hope” during 2012. I had a special screening in Jerusalem, arranged by the Swedish Consulate. The Q&A was lively and at the end a gentle old woman raised her hand: “Excuse me. In the archive material that you use, I saw a little girl with a blanket in her hands. I just want to say it’s me.” And she was not the only one. The screenings of “Harbor” led to many phone calls and emails. People recognized family members or even themselves. Suddenly a door had opened. Then we started to spread the word on social media, where we published the passenger lists from the day the archive footage was shot. This made it possible to identify even more of the survivors. In the end, that led to the more conceptual second docu, “Every Face Has a Name.” We’re giving the names back to the anonymous survivors standing in the harbor of Malmö, on April 28, 1945.

Nadine appears in the original footage. How did you identify her and discover her fascinating history with Nelly?

Nadine is mentioned briefly in the two first films. She was easy to identify, as the newspapers wrote about her arrival and published photos of her. We were also able to find out about her connections to Natalie Clifford Barney’s famous literary salon in Paris during the 1930s. But it took us years before we realized what happened to her after the war. The final pieces of information came during a screening of “Every Face Has a Name” in Paris, in November 2016. I was contacted by a French couple, Sylvie and Christian, who have a farm in Northern France. They had noticed that my film included images of Nadine Hwang. They delivered this big love story about Nelly and Nadine meeting in Ravensbrück at Christmas, 1944. I was blown away and immediately realized that I needed to do one more film. In “Nelly & Nadine,” we’re focusing on the documents, still photos and private film reels that belong to Sylvie and her family. It’s an amazing family collection that really brings the love story of the two women to life.

Will you return to the original archival footage for further stories?

There are still many secrets to be revealed in the old archival footage, so I can’t guarantee you anything. But I will certainly do my best to keep away from it. A trilogy is a fitting ending and there’s so many more films I want to do. My next project will most likely be another music doc. Music is such an important part of my life, an ongoing inspiration.

Why do you make documentaries?

Simple — because it’s such a privileged job. I have the opportunity to knock on any door, in any part of the world, and someone will open the door and say: “Welcome! Now I finally can tell my story.” It’s a big responsibility to take care of other people’s life stories. The only way for me to give something back is to deliver a great film. I’m not agenda-driven, so my starting point always has to be a unique story and strong main character. I can’t do a film just because the topic is “important.” But hopefully the film will turn out to be a humanistic manifesto in the end.