Nuggets From Lorenz Knauer's Call

Posted by Chris Johnnidis on Oct 27, 2019
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Recently we had the privilege of hosting Awakin Call with Lorenz Knauer.

Lorenz Knauer is an award-winning documentary filmmaker and founder of the Jane Goodall Institute for Animals, Wildlife and the Environment in Germany. He made the feature-length film Jane's Journey, and many others in his 35+ year career. Lorenz was born in Munich in 1953 – “only eight years after the end of World War II, when Germany was a traumatized country on all levels.” His father had been an anti-Nazi drafted against his will into Hitler’s army, a man Lorenz describes as “a very, very angry and violent man with a very short temper – his was reign of terror.” “It took me decades to even begin to understand where my father’s anger had its roots,” he notes. He came to understand "that it was not just my father who was so angry – it was the entire generation of my parents and of their parents too." Knauer has now re-rooted himself in the land and soil of Germany.

Below are some of the nuggets from the call that stood out for me ...
  • Lorenz grew up in Germany in the aftermath of WWII, at the "borderline of the cold war." “Germany was a traumatized country on all levels,” with a sense of shock and fear. Awkward sense of privilege on the West side of the Berlin Wall, with a feeling of protection from French and British. And West Berliners weren't drafted into army. Cold War tensions high though. On eve of Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, his father, who had unwillingly been drafted into Nazi army during WWII, remarked, "if we're alive tomorrow, it will be a miracle."
  • Lorenz noted how Germany basically experienced a run of dictatorships from 1933-1989. Growing up in Germany, it seemed as though the Berlin Wall might never come down. Yet it did in 1989.
  • Aryae, the call moderator whose grandparents' generation fought against Nazis and/or died in concentration camps, and Lorenz noted how their respective lineages were descendent from family histories that were in conflict during WWII; yet they were able to connect on this call, in a spirit of goodness. Difficult to talk about; and grateful for the opportunity.
  • Lorenz was well into his 40s before uncovering and beginning to come to terms with inherited family trauma. Experienced problems in 20s and 30s, but didn’t immediately connect intergenerational trauma to his parents and grandparents. "Nobody talked about it"; Germany was busy trying to rebuild country; Lorenz's parents spoke of feeling happy to just be alive.
  • Aryae similarly experienced culture of not wanting to talk about it within family culture (after immigrating to U.S.); took years in his own life to begin to learn about what had happened in the past, even learn about Holocaust.
  • How did you come to terms with inheritance of trauma? "By life crumbling." First marriage fell apart, career ended. Knew I wanted to make documentary films, but I felt like a mess. Started therapy, intensely for a number of years. Helped me deal with my own rage and anger. One therapy session I remember, I understood I had to go through this anger, had to let go of it; in a flash I understood, this is the anger I felt from my father. Only then did I get a glimpse of where his anger likely came from.
  • Access to therapists without shame and stigma was new for my generation. My parents’ generation didn’t have that.
  • Lorenz later made a film about gun violence in U.S.; struck by how intertwined guns and violence are with history of U.S.
  • Lorenz's journey with Jane Goodall. Met 15 years prior to beginning to work with her; had desire to make a film about her, but "who am I?", and so many films already been made. Idea to make a film about the person behind the icon of Jane Goodall. Presented idea to Jane over 3-hour dinner; Jane said: you’re nuts, but if you can pull the pieces together to make the film happen, I love the idea.
  • At one point, Lorenz asked Jane about her memories of WWII. Jane was born in 1934, and was about 8-10 years old when Germans dropping bombs over England. "Isn’t it amazing, our fathers were killing each other," she said, standing on a beach where war had taken place, "but you, as a German, are making this film about me. Isn’t that amazing..."
  • Later on Lorenz discovered Jane included an acknowledgement in one of her books, noting gratitude to her mother sending her as an au pair to Germany when she was young. The family she was an au pair for turned out to have a strong Nazi background. Jane's mother had said to her, "I want you to know the mentality of those we were in conflict with before, because that’s the way we’ll make peace later." Jane recounted this was not fun for her as a teenager, but formative (and perhaps prescient).
  • Spending time with Jane, Lorenz was struck by how, no matter who Jane is interacting with--child in refugee camp or Secretary General of U.N.--she treated everyone on an equal level.
  • Lorenz became involved in Jane's Foundation work, Roots and Shoots. Focus on animals, people, and environment. Including projects in Tanzania, villages... "Rather than impose solutions, we ask what support can be offered to potential solutions they themselves identify." Noted tree planting, solar lamp project, chimpanzee sanctuary in Congo, among others.
  • During Q&A, to a question wondering about integenerational salience (positive experiences that last) in contrast to integenerational trauma, Lorenz shared, "I think it's incredibly important for children to have at least one person to show them love and kindness." Noting having received "such love" from his grandmother (and grandfather too), on father’s side, spending years with them as a child.
  • Lorenz shared a bit about constellation therapy, in response to a question. Noted, "miracle of this therapy, when in good hands, can open up doors to heal."
  • Asked about sense of home, Lorenz noted, "I previously thought of people more than place; at home wherever I'm with community. In my 50s, when making film about river Isar, flowing through [his hometown] Munich, had flash of realization, this is home for me."

Much gratitude to all the behind-the-scenes volunteers, and participants, that made this call happen!

Posted by Chris Johnnidis | | permalink

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  • Roshni Shah wrote ...