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RBIFF - Dancing on a Volcano

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A couple of years ago, Steve Gonzer of Middletown, Delaware, spent 20 years gathering testimonials of Holocaust survivors and liberators who call Delaware their home. He edited those testimonials together into the documentary No Denying: Delawareans Bear Witness to the Holocaust.

Dancing on a Volcano is the new documentary playing at the 15th Rehoboth Beach Independent Film Festival and it captures the testimonial of a holocaust survivor who doesn't call Delaware her home but certainly has connections to the First State. Her name is Nadja Hammermann from Austria and her story isn't just a harrowing one of escape but it's also a powerful, love story, one that is probably best told by Hammermann herself.

I talked to Hammermann's nephew, Patsy Cicala who is in part responsible for bringing her story to the big screen. Hammermann was the senior illustrator for The New York Times and Cicala took some of her work to the Federal Street Gallery in Milton to be framed. Gary Merz, the gallery's owner, realized the importance of the work and set up an art show. After a trusting relationship was established, Hammermann decided to work with Merz in creating this documentary.

Hammermann is an illustrator and Cicala went to a shop on Federal Street in Milton to get her artwork framed. That's where he met owner, Gary Merz whom he told about Hammermann. Merz was able to help clean and sell her artwork for a good amount of money. Hammermann was so grateful that she decided to give him her life story and thus the documentary Dancing on a Volcano, which Merz directed, was born.

Hammermann who now resides in New York City lived a great life and accomplished a lot of things, and, as Cicala says, because of her, and her love affair with Chilean consulate Armando Marine, more Jewish and Christian people were saved than those by Oskar Schindler. The particulars of that and the particulars of the rest of her amazing life are better left coming from her. I haven't seen the movie, so I asked Cicala to explain the meaning or provenance of the title. Cicala told me, but, I certainly got the feeling that it would have been a more interesting or engaging tale if I heard it from her.

Hammermann is over 100 years old. Cicala described her as the "Forrest Gump of World War II." Merz captured 120 hours of interview tape, which speaks to how much life she has to tell. Somehow, Merz managed to distill it down to just over a hour of screen time. Yet, that hour is filled with love, loss, heroics, celebrity, fashion and great art.

Dancing on a Volcano
Running Time: 1 hr. and 15 mins.
November 10, 2012 at 6:15PM.
Rehoboth Beach Independent Film Festival.

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