‘Oma & Bella’ become stars, thanks to granddaughter

“It’s like Andy Warhol said,” Alexa Karolinski said, “You can make anybody famous if you treat them like stars.”

Karolinski is director of “Oma & Bella,” a quest to make her grandmother, and her friend, stars.

Grandmother, Oma, and friend Bella, have quite a story. They survived the Holocaust and the concentration camps (Oma was transferred from Poland to Germany) and they were put in a displaced persons camp. Some stayed, like Oma and Bella. They continued their lives in Germany, best friends, and turned to cooking as a way to escape the memories of the past.

“It’s their therapy and the language that they speak,” said Karolinski, who was born in Berlin and lives in New York City. Oma and Bella don’t really speak about their past; instead, they cook to remember good times, to recapture their heritages, and most of all, to bring warmth into their lives. Cooking means family. Cooking means love.

Karolinski, who worked in television production in Germany before coming to America, first wrote a cookbook to help bring Oma and Bella’s love of cooking into the world. But she was struggling finding visual accompaniment for the book, and when she thought more intensively about her grandmother’s story, she realized she could film a documentary.

“Oma & Bella” tells the story of two women with extraordinary stories and cooking skills (they can make a 20-person dinner in 20 minutes, alleges Karolinski). Most of all, they’re extraordinarily warm, and it shines through. The film premiered at the Berlin Film Festival, which is amazing, as Berlin is their home, it’s an acclaimed festival, and this was Karolinski’s first film.

“Which is insane,” she said. “It’s in my hometown and I can take them to festival; the whole experience … like everything big is happening.”

“Oma & Bella” is a hit in Berlin. It’s in theatrical release there. Best of all, Karolinski got her wish.

“They went on their evening walk, and just so happens a theater that was showing the film was near their house,” Karolinski said. “So when the film ended people saw them walking outside … people hugged them and kissed them and ran to the flower shop and bought them flowers. One person sent them a plastic Oscar.”

Karolinski smiled through a slowly developing tear. She made Oma and Bella famous.

Oma & Bella screens at 12:15 p.m. at Utopia Studios in Woodstock.

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