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OnlineJul 09, 2024

Unearthed History: Tragedy and Triumph in Maya Erdelyi’s “Anyuka”

For her documentary debut, the animator and artist uses family archives to create a short film as vibrant and layered as the legacy it hopes to distill.

Review by Emma Breitman

Still of a mother and child from an animated short film.

Maya Erdelyi, still from "Anyuka," 2023. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Maya Erdelyi, a Boston-based experimental animator, collagist, and printmaker, fills her work with electric colors that radiate outward from their medium(s) into the world of the viewer. She brings her maximalist style to her newest short film, Anyuka (2023).

Anyuka, Hungarian for mother, traces the life of Erdelyi’s grandmother, Veronica, a writer, World War II refugee, and Holocaust survivor. The film interweaves Super 8 family films, archival interview material of Veronica’s Holocaust experience, commentary by Erdelyi’s father, and the artist’s experimental animation. Together, the film displays a vibrant conversation spanning three generations.

Anyuka has been screened nationally at festivals including the New York Jewish Film Festival,  Salem Film Fest, and the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, and will be screened internationally this fall. The film was also recently acquired by the Jewish Museum in New York City for its permanent collection and will be exhibited in the fall of 2025.

On June 6, 2024, Anyuka premiered in Brookline with a screening at the Boston Workers Circle and was accompanied by a workshop facilitated by Erdelyi about conserving familial memories. Attendees were encouraged to briefly write about and then illustrate a moment from their own family history in order to bring hidden histories to light.

Maya Erdelyi, still from Anyuka, 2023. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Erdelyi’s dynamic animations added levity to an otherwise heavy topic. Flickering sketched flora and fauna draped across the screen drove home how, despite tremendous struggle, Veronica shone brightly in the lives of all she loved. Erdelyi’s tender connection to her grandmother was palpable immediately, and her animations became a way for the two to commune posthumously.

While some Holocaust narratives confine themselves to the Holocaust, Erdelyi guides viewers through Veronica’s life post-Holocaust. Without the added context of Veronica’s life—the death of her first husband in a concentration camp, fleeing Hungary across the Iron Curtain with a young child, first to Italy and then Venezuela and the US—the Super 8 films would solely read as sepia-toned Americana in a shelf-stable container. However, through Erdelyi’s dictation of Veronica’s life, her trips to quintessential American landmarks—Mount Rushmore and the Grand Canyon, among others—take on new meaning and serve as markers for her immense strength and growth despite tragic beginnings.

Maya Erdelyi, still from Anyuka, 2023. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Anyuka is about grief and wonder, tragedy and opportunity, life and death. The film opens and closes with a bright, trilling musical loop that along with the images helps convey these conflicting feelings. 

Anyuka will premier at the Boston Jewish Film Festival at the MFA Boston Remis Auditorium on November 10, 2024.

Emma Breitman


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