It all started on a cruise ship in the Panama Canal almost four years ago. Radio disc jockey turned documentary filmmaker Frank Lozano was enjoying a meal in the shade when an elderly Toronto couple sat down beside him. The wife warned him that her husband would talk his ear off.
Little did Lozano know, that couple was Syma and David Forberg, and they had met during the Holocaust in the Chenstacowa concentration camp. When their story of survival came up in conversation, Lozano got a filmmaker’s itch to get it all on tape.
Last month, David Forberg died at the age of 89, and Lozano has been reflecting on the remarkable experience of capturing the Forbergs’ story in his award-winning short documentary Hole Hearted.
“I just love people, I’m naturally inquisitive,” said Lozano, 48, about his interest in what the Forbergs had to tell him. Lozano, who is Christian, said he knew “zero” about the Holocaust before listening to their story.
“It was remarkable just to talk to somebody first-hand who saw it,” he said. Lozano decided that same evening that he would ask to record the Forbergs for a short documentary that he would enter into an upcoming Christian film festival. The festival, called the 168 Hour Film Project, requires participants to put together their films in only one week, or 168 hours.
The Forbergs were more than willing to oblige. It wouldn’t be the first time someone filmed their story – Steven Spielberg had done so for his Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation.
Lozano began filming immediately on the camera he had brought to record his vacation. “My biggest challenge was, how do I capture this on tape? I’m on a cruise ship!” he said, adding that without professional equipment, he knew he’d have a lot of work left to do after the cruise.
The Forbergs agreed to have Lozano continue to film at their winter home in Miami, but he wanted to check with the rest of their family before taking the opportunity. “I knew that at their age, they were going to have kids [and] I’d need to have permission,” he said.
At first, Lozano found two of the Forbergs’ daughters to be skeptical about his motives for making the documentary and confused about his intense interest. “This is someone outside your community that was spending his own money, ” said Esther Michaels, one of the Forbergs’ four children, reminiscing about her reluctance to give Lozano the green light to film.
Ultimately, she agreed to Lozano’s request, and he flew over from his Los Angeles home to continue the shoot. Several hours of filming and editing later, Lozano put together an 11-minute documentary and, after some unexpected technical difficulties, submitted it to the film festival, only 15 minutes before the deadline. He won for 2008 best documentary, but the contest was only a part of his winnings.
The Forberg family’s gratitude for the film was another reward. “We cried. We all cried. We couldn’t believe what Frank had done,” said Michaels about the first time she and her family watched the documentary.
But Lozano had just begun to forge a bond with the Forberg family. In May 2010, after Lozano had sent the film to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial and Museum in Jerusalem, the Forbergs took him with them to Israel as thanks for all he had done in telling their story in a unique and sensitive way.
Lozano accompanied the Forbergs when they were honoured at Yad Vashem and toured Israel’s holiest sites for both Christianity and Judaism. During his stay there, he was even baptized in the Jordan River.
More than a year after the trip, and nearly four years since he made the film, Lozano is still in close contact with the Forbergs. “I won’t say they’re like family – they are family,” he said.
You can watch the award-winning documentary Hole Hearted on Lozano’s website at www.franklozano.com.