a film in early production
I am an interdisciplinary performance artist exploring the mediated spaces where identity is constructed.
For the past six years, I have been immersed in an expanding art/life work: It began as an investigation into a woman's story that came into my care – the Holocaust testimony of a Polish Jewish woman named Paulina – and has turned into an unconventional exploration of motherhood.
While searching for records of my elusive great-grandmother for whom I had only a name, I found the Holocaust testimony of a niece, Paulina. She hid in plain sight, working as a nanny, a nurse, a kitchen supervisor, a translator ... I was pulled in. I was convinced that this story found me for a reason. Even more when I later discovered that Paulina was not my relative – that she had no family left to remember her. In 2019, with my Polish counterpart Patrycja Dołowy, a member of the small Jewish community remaining in Poland, we hit the road to follow Paulina's trail step-by-step, across Poland and Ukraine. Who would have thought we would actually find something that Paulina left behind? Something that would compel me to reconsider the possibility of motherhood, long after I thought my chance had passed. An investigation into the buried past has become a proposal to create life.
PAULINA is a personal documentary, a collage of moments that move between verité, essay, archive, and performance to share three interrelated journeys:1) The journey of Paulina, who lost her daughter and navigated Nazi-occupied Poland on her own; 2) My experience of finding Paulina's account and the resulting real-life folktale journey through Poland, leading to a collision of my life with Paulina's; 3) My current biological journey to become a mother, on my own, later in life.
WATCH TEASER (7 min)
PAULINA is a feature-length film in early production. Approximately 40% of the footage has been shot. The team is in place, and I am currently seeking support to go into full production in 2023-2024, conducting shoots in Poland and the US. *Certain aspects of this timeline cannot wait.
This story rises from narratives of persecution, erasure, and dislocation. It deals directly with Jewish history– yet it is not about the past. Rather, it is about relationships that form now as a result and in the aftermath of these complicated histories– how the unresolved past continues to resurface and teach us in the present. As we live in an increasingly turbulent time where wars wage on and human rights continue to be violated, this film focuses on the potential of each other’s stories to provide a vision of hope, kinship, and possibility.
Please consider supporting this realization of this unique film.
Michelle Levy, (Director) is an interdisciplinary artist, storyteller, writer, and cultural organizer based in Brooklyn, New York. She uses performance, video, and collective engagement to explore the mediated spaces where identity is constructed. She has presented work at venues across New York City, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Kraków, Warsaw, Szczecin, and Prague. Recent support includes a New York State Council on the Arts Individual Artist Grant (2022) and participation in Union Docs Early Production Lab (2022) for the development of her first feature-length non-fiction film based on her evolving project: PAULINA. She received an Asylum Arts Sustaining Practice Grant (2020); and grants from the US Embassy, Warsaw, Poland (2019) and Asylum Arts (2018) for the performance and engagement iterations of PAULINA. Over 2018/19, Levy's artistic research in Poland was hosted by POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews, with cooperation from the Archive and Genealogy departments of the Emmanuel Ringleblum Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw; and PAULINA was the Project-in-Residence for Festivalt, a radical Jewish art festival in Kraków (2019). Levy was a participant in the Asylum Arts/POLIN Museum Poland Retreat for Jewish Artists in Warsaw (2017); received a CCNY Connor Travel Scholarship to study performance at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London (2014); and a travel fellowship from the Czech Center New York for a curatorial residency at MeetFactory in Prague (2013). Levy holds an MFA in Digital and Interdisciplinary Art Practice from The City College of New York, and a BA in Studio Art from Wesleyan University, CT. From 2008 - 2018, she was the Founding Director of EFA Project Space, an experimental exhibition program of The Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts in Manhattan. There, she also created the SHIFT Residency supporting the creative practices of artists working for arts organizations in NYC.
Jonathan Bogarin (Director of Photography) is a filmmaker, teacher, and visual artist. His debut feature, 306 Hollywood, premiered opening night of the 2018 Sundance Film Festival as the first documentary ever included in the festival’s NEXT section. It played over 70 festivals, won multiple awards including an Emmy, was released theatrically through the Sundance Creative Distribution Fellowship, and appeared on PBS's POV and Amazon Prime. Jonathan was chosen for Filmmaker Magazine’s 25 New Faces of Film, awarded Emerging International Filmmaker at Hot Docs, and has received support from organizations including Sundance, Artemis Rising Foundation, Ford Foundation / Just Films, NYSCA, Latino Public Broadcasting, and IFP. Jonathan is the co-director of El Tigre Productions where he creates innovative non-fiction films and produces award-winning digital content for the world’s leading museums, platforms, and brands.
Elan Bogarin, Story Consultant/ Consulting Producer
Sunita Prasad, Consulting Editor
This film is made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature. It has received support from the Jewish Association Czulent, Tarbut Foundation, and Union Docs Early Production Lab, and is a fiscally sponsored project of the New York Foundation of the Arts. It emerges from an iterative performance (PAULINA) and collaboration with Warsaw-based writer/artist Patrycja Dołowy. Dołowy's book, Skarby (Treasures: Seekers and Guardians of Jewish Memory), published by Czarne Press in 2022, is inspired by this story and includes a chapter written by Michelle. The PAULINA project was supported by Asylum Arts, Festivalt, Kana Theater, Emmanuel Ringelblum Jewish Historical Institute, POLIN Museum for the History of Polish Jews, and US Embassy, Warsaw.