A Letter without Words


Bottom 20% of all time (see others with this rank)

Festival Year

1998 (click here to see all competition films from this year)


Documentary Competition

Non-Cast Credits

ITVS, Lisa Lewenz, David Liu, Ella Lewenz, Penalope Falk, Anand Kamalakar, Rugh Schell, Lisa Lewenz, Paul Bartholomew, Lewis Spratlan, Bob Telson


A Letter without Words is a fascinating exploration of the priceless value of discovering one's personal and cultural family history. When filmmaker Lisa Lewenz unearthed her grandmother Ella's old films in the attic, she unknowingly came across a kind of Pandora's box. Some stories had been lost forever, but what remained was astonishing footage that had been locked away for thirty years.

Born in 1883, Ella Lewenz began documenting her life through film when she waa a young woman in pre-World-War-l Germany. Amazingly, far above most home movies, Ella shot, edited, titled, and dated her films, crafting a veritable time capsule of her era. As a woman of means, she was able to document remarkable moments in history, chronicling events no one else filmed. After discovering this remarkable historical record, her granddaughter traveled to Germany to film the exact locations her grandmother had captured fifty years earlier. The result of matching the footage is eerie.

The film unfolds, revealing secrets and contradictions, and though Lewenz nevr knew her grandmother while she was alive, she comes to know her in an intimate way she had never imagined possible.

A Letter without Words is an extraordinary piece, filled with rare footage of prewar Germany, when Lewenz's family enjoyed the comforts of the upper class. Years of extensive research, inquiries, and tracking down family members from around the world were spent in an effort to piece together this puzzle. The film strikes a chord underlining the significance of film preservation and the importance of gaining an understanding of where we come from.


Lisa Viola (see other films reviewed by the same reviewer)

Film Takes Pace.