We were not allowed to say the word 'death' when I was growing up,” explains film-maker Peter Speyer, whose mother Charlotte took the last boat out of Germany to South Africa in 1938. The word evoked painful memories of the family she left behind.
Speyer is an experienced writer and producer of films and plays. Short film You are Me is the first he has directed. It is the almost totally silent story of a meeting of a Holocaust survivor and an African refugee. Speaking to Speyer ahead of its screening at The Curzon in London's Soho to mark Refugee Week, his inspiration quickly becomes apparent. “My mother worked illegally, because she was Jewish, for MGM as a subtitler. She wrote the words for the dubbing of the first talkies, including the very first, The Jazz Singer. She was really living it up and was very reluctant to leave.” Her brother died in a concentration camp.
Meanwhile, Speyer’s father Richard left Berlin for Holland, from where he made it to South Africa. Speyer grew up in Johannesburg in a “German-Jewish enclave”. He became a highly politicised ANC supporter, fleeing to Britain after being called up by the apartheid regime to fight in Angola in 1979.
Speyer has spent many years in social work, with clients including Holocaust survivors at Jewish Care’s Shalvata therapy centre. The survivor character in You are Me was based on someone he knew there. The silent African character was also based on someone he had met. The film is supported by the UN High Commission for Refugees. “They felt the film was different, in that it’s fictional and it’s open ended. There is a lot of silence for the viewer to fill in.”