Impact in Profile: Davina Pardo

Impact in Profile: Davina Pardo

Davina Pardo is a determined woman. For two years, the Emmy award-winning filmmaker had reached out to USC Shoah Foundation and Conscience Display, asking again and again for access to create a documentary about the New Dimensions in Testimony program. A native Canadian residing in Brooklyn, Pardo was no stranger to grappling with memories of mass murder. She had previously spent time in Rwanda filming a documentary about the 1994 genocide.

As a granddaughter of survivors who were unable to talk about their experiences in the Holocaust, Pardo was fascinated by those people who could. This is what drove her fascination in New Dimensions in Testimony. The plan was to understand the emotions that drive this need to share life stories by observing the process. At long last, she got the green light: Holocaust survivor Eva Geiringer Schloss would be coming to Los Angeles and available for filming.

New Dimensions in Testimony can be difficult to explain. Survivors sit in a lightstage surrounded by cameras as they answer more than a thousand questions about their lives. The final product is a talking, lifesize recording of the survivor that uses natural language processing to interactively respond to questions. The program learns with time, providing an increasingly streamlined and engaging process. Eva Schloss was to be the seventh survivor to preserve her testimony through this program.

Documentaries typically require time to establish a relationship between the director and subject, but Pardo and Schloss first met during the testimony recording in December 2015. For five days, octogenarian Schloss gave answers with her usual wit and humor, charming the documentary crew and director as they learned about the minutiae of her experiences and life before and after liberation.

Eva Schloss’ story is long and complex. Her father and brother died weeks before liberation, and the guilt surrounding that loss has never lifted. She credits Otto Frank, the father of Anne Frank who went on to become Schloss’ stepfather, for helping her come to terms with her trauma. Despite Frank’s kindness, Schloss often grappled with the meaning of her famous step-sister’s legacy and the pressures of being the lone surviving child.

These are issues too thorny to unpack in a fifteen-minute documentary and so Pardo chose to focus 116 Cameras on the woman, rather than the technical process. For Schloss, it’s an uncomplicated matter: “Since 1986, I started to speak for the first time… and I haven’t really stopped since.” The survivor goes out to tell her story at least twice a week, despite the protests from her daughters who remind her that she doesn’t have to do this.

Things have come a long way since the filming in 2015. Eva Schloss still lives in London, but today visitors to the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York are able to speak with her testimony. They can learn lessons from her memories and use those insights to stay strong in an era of hatred and vitriol. As for Davina Pardo, her determination has paid off—116 Cameras is currently shortlisted for the 2018 Academy Awards.

Watch 116 Cameras here.