It’s been 10 years to the month since I finished reading Lynn Nicholas’ extraordinary book, The Rape of Europa. It coincided with my move to Florence and that explosive moment when I wondered aloud how all the great artistic treasures of our Western world had survived the destructiveness of WWII. At the time, I was reading about five books per week while living, temporarily, in Portofino. But upon finishing Lynn’s book, the subject matter of what I was reading changed dramatically. It began what has been a 10 year love affair and never ending curiosity about this subject. It continues to this day.
It seems as though is was yesterday when I flew to Washington, D.C., to meet Lynn and tell her about my desire to tell this story using film and photographs. Although I knew next to nothing about filmmaking, I had learned a great deal about collecting and had developed a valuable list of contacts both before and after moving to Italy. Her introduction to the filmmakers–Actual Films in San Francisco–was instrumental in my ongoing involvement in the project. They had already completed some very critical interviews with Monuments Men and had completed alot of research that became the foundation of the work that followed. For my part, I was able to make some creative suggestions, alert them to developments that were in the forefront of my activities, and open some otherwise “stuck” doors. It was an effective collaboration.
Over the course of a seven week period in 2004, we traveled to St. Petersburg, Moscow, Warsaw, Cracow, Venice, Florence, Monte Cassino, Paris, Munich, Nuremberg, Vienna, Linz, and other cities filming these amazing stories in the very places the events unfolded sixty years ago. We spent time with Maria Altmann when she was “just” a claimant, when the return of her five paintings by Gustav Klimt was but a dream. And we were with her when they arrived in Los Angeles in April of this year after her victory over the government of Austria in an epic court battel. This was but one of many extraordinary experiences afforded us by this remarkable story.
The result is a two hour documentary film entitled The Rape of Europa, based on Lynn’s great book of the same name. It is narrated by the acclaimed actress, Joan Allen, and includes interviews with many of the living Monuments Men. I am proud of our work, in particular the great creative efforts of the filmmakers at Actual Films: Bonni Cohen, Jon Shenk, Richard Berge, and Nicole Newnham. The finished film has been submitted to the Telluride Film Festival which takes place September 1-4. We should know whether or not it is accepted within about 3 weeks or so. More news will follow; I have alot more to say about the film.
Ten years ago I knew that where I was headed was going to be better than where I had come from, but in what ways I could only imagine. “Follow your passion” Oprah Winfrey, among many others, so often says. But how do you “find” a passion on cue? In hindsight, I am not so sure that you “find” a passion as much as IT FINDS YOU!! What is essential is to find yourself, develop interests you love just because you love them and find them interesting, and then work like crazy to learn everything you can about them starting from the ground up. Who you were in your prior life is of no importance when you change industries or businesses or careers. A decision to make such a dramatic change places you at the bottom of the totem pole, a grunt, paying your dues. It sounds unglamorous, and for a long while it is, but it is also a marvelous experience filled with the growth and challenges of a lifetime.