The Annual 2012

School of Visual Arts

Cooking Up a Documentary

Alexa Karolinski

“I started the film as a cookbook,” says alumnus Alexa Karolinski (MFA 2011 Social Documentary Film). She’s talking about Oma and Bella, a tender profile of her grandmother and her grandmother’s best friend—both Holocaust survivors who live in Berlin, as did Karolinski at the time—as they bond over the preparation of meals remembered from childhood. “I was looking over their shoulders for months trying to learn their recipes,” Karolinski says. Relocating from Berlin to New York City, Karolinski put the book project aside, but found herself drawn back to it as a thesis project. “A few months later I was back in Berlin filming for a summer.”

Using SVA’s equipment and enlisting the help of friends and fellow students in the MFA Social Documentary Film Department , Karolinski soon found that less could be more when it came to the size of a crew. “I realized that the film was the most natural and intimate when I was alone with my subjects, filming them myself,” she says. Back at SVA for her second year, she launched a Kickstarter money-raising campaign to complete the project, ultimately gathering in an impressive $44,000. “The campaign was crazy successful,” she says, “a huge surprise. Then I got accepted to the Berlin Film Festival where the film had its world premiere.”

Currently, Karolinksi is working on preparing the film for distribution in Germany, the U.S., and elsewhere, but is also returning to her original cookbook idea. “Now that the film itself is done, I owe it to Oma and Bella to do a book,” she says. “It will be illustrated by Joana Avillez, another SVA graduate, and I’m trying to make an iPad app too.” She’s also working on fashion videos and other less all-consuming jobs. “Oma and Bella was an intense, intimate experience—it was like a big, serious relationship—so right now I need a few casual, smaller things.”