Movie Review: I Am Here

It’s amazing to think that we live in a society where there are still people who deny the Holocaust ever happened. This is the launchpad for an intimate memoir from Ella Blumenthal, whose compassionate letter to a high profile influencer and denialist became the inception for this vivid chronicle of her storied life in the life-affirming hybrid documentary, I Am Here. Living for every second, an absolute character and a well-travelled soul, I Am Here serves as a harrowing albeit important recollection of tragic events that shaped Blumenthal’s life by way of documentary footage and animated flashbacks.

Born in Warsaw, a teenager at the time of the outbreak of World War II, Ella Blumenthal survived five years of living in Nazi concentration camps with her beloved niece, having lost most of their family and been separated from her father. Having lived through these atrocities, witnessed pure evil and survived an abomination that continues to haunt humankind, I Am Here is a challenging and deeply emotional journey as Blumenthal recounts her story in her own words.

Directed by Jordy Sank, the filmmaker continues to investigate the ripple effects of World War II after his heartfelt and honest short film, The Locket, in the vein of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. An authentic, nuanced and powerful war drama about a man who’s separated from his true love only to meet her as a soldier at a concentration camp, it shows Sank was more than capable of dramatising Blumenthal’s memories – if given the means.

i am here film

“…and now, I am over here.”

Walking through the Cape Town Holocaust and Genocide Centre and using animation to recreate scenes from her memories, this multimedia documentary gives viewers visual insights into the tragedy from Ella’s first-hand account. Offering a welcome buffer and some distance in terms of the simple animation style, the characters are embedded against realistic backdrops, keeping a sense of history to Ella’s tragic yet vivid retelling.

Pivoting from her 98th birthday, Blumenthal’s testimony and zest is a true inspiration, speaking to the power of love, tolerance and endurance of the human spirit. Compelled by her faith, tenacious spirit and life force, Ella was moved from one concentration camp to another – narrowly escaping death in a gas chamber. While survival is at the heart of I Am Here, the award-winning documentary is not without humour as Blumenthal’s feisty demeanor and ceaseless optimism shines through.

A heartfelt character portrait with a signature feel, I Am Here offers an emotional, painful and heartbreaking account, which while difficult to fathom at times based on the scale and inhumanity of the genocide is grounded and made all the more powerful by its triumph of the human spirit and hard-earned legacy. Surrounded by family and friends, the trauma of Ella’s remarkable true story still resounds decades later as the lively and characterful woman overcomes the darkness each and every day, having been on earth for over a century now.

The bottom line: Stirring