Learning to Milk a Cow

Director: Juliana Saragosa / 64 min. / 2016 / English (ST: German, English) / Germany, Canada

To Bavaria and back in search of heritage lost.

Script: Juliana Saragosa, Katherine Kowaltchuk
Cinematography: Zara Zandieh, Juliana Saragosa
Editing: Juliana Saragosa

Watch the film on Sooner!

When the filmmaker’s grandmother was 19, she was taken from Soviet Ukraine to Germany to work on a Bavarian farm under National Socialism. She had the luck and perseverance to survive hardships of the forced famine in her homeland and forced labour in the new one. The stories of her everyday life – learning how to milk a cow, falling in love – are interspersed with three generations of reflections on politics,
longing, feelings of displacement and loss. Hand-processed black & white film, colour film, photographs and official documents create a montage of different perspectives. The hand-touch aesthetic combines with the acousmatic effect of disembodied voices, in this deeply intimate portrait obscured by memory loss, mis-translation, fear and trauma.

Katherine Kowaltchuk, Juliana Saragosa, and Nadia Saragosa

Director: Juliana Saragosa
Screenplay: Juliana Saragosa, Katherine Kowaltchuk
Camera: Zara Zandieh, Juliana Saragosa
Editing: Juliana Saragosa
Sound: Juliana Saragosa
Music: Vesnivka Choir

Growing up in an immigrant family, encouraged to try everything and the economic necessity to use what’s at hand (like a home photography darkroom) Juli Saragosa became an artistic experimenter from an early age. An interdisciplinary media and performance artist who has shown work at festivals worldwide, Juli’s work extends to the curatorial and educational, as a grassroots organizer of independent festivals (The
Project8 Super8 Film Festival and Mentorship Program-Vancouver, CA and the entzaubert queer DIY uncommercial film festival-Berlin, DE), a workshop leader (LIFT-Toronto, CA and VIVO-Vancouver, CA), mentor to young artists (Inside Out-Toronto, CA, Project8, and CFC-Toronto, CA), and as a media arts instructor (SFU-Vancouver, CA, UBC-Kelowna, CA and dBs Film-Berlin, DE).

Link to Juliana Saragosa’s website.

This film is a chapter in the project “Stories for a Future Generation,” which is a multi-media project gathering together the stories of my family’s and my own migrations, and the inter-generational impacts of those upon our lives and on those of future generations. The chapters switch genres (fictionalized storytelling vs. documented interviews vs. experimentation with forms / performance, etc.) and formats (super8mm, 16mm, digital video, audio and interactive online video).

“Learning to Milk a Cow” follows my grandmother’s story chronologically after the 7-minute short film “Finding a Place to Sleep,” which is an experimental dialogue between myself and my maternal great-grandmother, based on stories my grandmother told me. I re-imagine, while working as a cleaner, the experiences of my ancestors living during the Holodomor (forced famine) in Ukraine during the Soviet era.

The ‘film’ image is re-invented through digital video to enact a sense of ambiguity between authenticity and fiction, as can also be present in the act of oral storytelling. This film picks up where the last leaves off, with recorded interviews of my grandmother telling her story of forced labour in Germany during WWII. The film uses hand-processed images of the Bavarian countryside juxtaposed against my grandmother’s apartment in Toronto.

The audio is asynchronous, with audio-only interviews between myself, my mother, and my grandmother. Additional interviews with the now elderly niece of my grandparents’ bosses, and a German PhD student whose grandparents had forced labourers in a nearby region, contrast against my grandmother’s, whose story weaves with her fading memories. My grandmother talks about the good times and the bad, making comparisons to how it was back home in Ukraine, and how lucky she was to immigrate to Canada, while also talking about how she fell in love with my grandfather, and after growing up in the city, learning how to work on a farm milking cows.

“More than just a passion project, but clearly full of love and passion…” – Dove Sussman,

“Saragosa draws circles in history, recognizes the past in the present.”Marit Östberg

Chouftouhonna Tunis International Feminist Art Festival (2017)
Baikal International Documentary Film Festival Irkutsk (2017)
Grandmother Film Festival Rotterdam and Berlin (2018 and 2019)