Five Questions With... Nina Horowitz and Alexandra Liveris, Directors of Short Docs THE MARGARET LAMBERT STORY and EYES OF EXODUS

We spoke with Nina Horowitz, director of THE MARGARET LAMBERT STORY and Alexandra Liveris, director of EYES OF EXODUS, both included in DOCUMENTARY SHORTS: LIFE JOURNEYS, screening on Thursday, June 22 at 11:15 AM. Read more with Nina and Alexandra below, and check out their films this week at Bennett Hall!

NFF (To Nina and Alexandra): How did you first become acquainted with and interested in your subjects' life and story?

Nina: There is a famous quote from the author Virginia Wolff,  “If you do not tell the truth about yourself you cannot tell it about other people.” Here is my truth, I am Jewish and I was a competitive high jumper in both high school and college. I was vaguely familiar with the story and the rumors about Margaret Lambert, but I did not know much more than she was unable to compete in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Life can be full of unexpected opportunities, and when I was asked to work with the Olympic Channel and develop films to showcase the impact of the Olympic Games , I knew this was the story I wanted to explore and document.

Alexandra: I started filming EYES OF EXODUS while visiting my grandfather’s birthplace. I was struck by the surreal dynamic of locals, vacationers, and refugees coexisting side-by-side on this fairytale island. It wasn’t until I became engaged in the underbelly of the town, did I understand that this coexistence wasn’t surreal, it is our global reality— only visually heightened when you are dealing with a population of 300.

NFF (To Nina): Can you talk a little bit about obtaining the archival footage and material/s? How difficult was that process?

Nina: I thoroughly enjoyed the work involved with searching and finding archival footage for this film, and I had decided early on that the perfect archival would be critical to sharing Margaret’s story. Our subjects in the film generously donated old photos, articles and videos for us to use in the film. Another leading provider of archival in the film was our distributor, The Olympic Channel, who had an impressive and unlimited bank of archival from every recorded Olympic game, specifically from the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games, which were the first ever broadcast live to the world.

NFF (To Alexandra): Immigration is a hotly contested topic all over the world right now. Do you think your film might be able to provide some perspective on the global refugee crisis?

Alexandra: My intent was to make a short film that humanized both the refugee and local experience during a small, but crucial part of the Syrian refugee crisis—the first stop into Europe. I was interested in using Kastellorizo as a microcosm to explore how this global crisis affects all of our choices and destinies, refugee or not. Kastellorizo only has a population of 300 and for this reason it is easier to show all sides of humanity more clearly. My main focus was showing something that is not often talked about--the difficulties of altruism. 

NFF (To Nina and Alexandra): What surprised and/or challenged you the most while you were making the film?

Nina: One of the biggest surprises, which may sound funny, was Margaret Lambert herself.  At 103 years old, she still recounts her life narrative with such clarity and passion. It became a huge inspiration for the film.  I was also surprised how the people closest to her shared her story with clarity  and without the resentment or anger that some might have expected toward her persecutors. Margaret's attitude and acceptance of her history are compelling and at times, emotionally wrenching. She is an exemplar of positivity. She lost a title and the opportunity for a gold medal, but she gained a life in the US that she valued more than anything else.

Alexandra: The different reactions my refugee friends had to the island. A few very young men told me that they wished they never came to Kastellorizo because they expected the Red Cross to be available to them and they didn’t have enough money to buy hotel rooms and food from the locals. Another couple were happy to spend a few days on the island after surviving war torn Syria so they could enjoy the honeymoon they never had. 

NFF (To Nina and Alexandra): Why are you excited to show the film in Nantucket, and/or what do you hope Nantucket audiences will take away?

Nina: I cannot wait to show my film and meet some of the incredible filmmakers that I'll be featured alongside.  This is a distinguished festival, I’m absolutely thrilled to be included in this year’s program.  I'm looking forward to seeing as many films as possible and eating delicious seafood.

I hope the audience is moved, inspired and can also laugh a little. Margaret lived in a time of great political uncertainty, yet she found ways to recreate herself and to honor her past. At 103 she is able to be grateful for the life she has had. My goal is to have us all pause, reflect and recognize that if we are lucky, the road is long and our stories can inspire generations to come.

Alexandra: I know that Nantucket is a community of compassion and with 1/113 people worldwide currently living as refugees, I hope that EYES OF EXODUS will inspire an environment of continual education and compassion on a very complex issue.