Konovalenko: Stories in Stone

A Soviet gem sculptor endures persecution, censorship and self-imposed exile for the sake of his art. His sculptures celebrate the richness of Russian life, culture and history and are a testament to the resilience of the human spirit.

Through decades of Soviet upheaval and Cold War tension, Vasily Konovalenko (1929-1989) revived and refashioned Russia's gem sculpting tradition, creating sculptures that reveal his enduring inner freedom. Though made from stone, they are vibrant, colorful, theatrical, expressive, alive. His figures appear eternally frozen in moments of pleasure and serenity. He drew inspiration from his love of theater and folklore, from Russian literature (Alexander Pushkin, Pavel Bazhov, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Sergey Mikhalkov, and Fyodor Dostoyevsky), from historical figures (Bogatyrs (Medieval Slavic heroes), Cossacks, Old Believers, Imperial secret police, Gypsies, Peasants, Boyars, etc.), and from mundane customs (bath houses, greeting rituals, tea drinking, crop harvesting, musical performances).


This feature-length documentary, produced in association with the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, will explore Vasily Konovalenko's life, art and times.


Director/Producer: Erika Volchan O'Conor

Executive Producer: Steve Nash

Narrator: Corey Flintoff

Pioneers (2016) Trailer

Director/Producer/Camera Operator/Editor: Erika Volchan O'Conor
Executive Producer: Kirk Ambrose, Professor & Chair of the Department of Art and Art History, University of Colorado, Boulder

86min 40sec. 2017.

Learn the unsung stories of the women artists, educators and activists, whose pioneering spirits, in the early days of Colorado history, forged today's landscape of opportunity.

Capturing the social, racial, and gender dynamics of a defining era in American history (1870-1970), 'Pioneers' acknowledges the lives, works and enduring legacies of four dynamic Colorado women; artists, educators, and social activists, and how their influence continues to shape today's cultural landscape.

Helen Henderson Chain (1849-1892), Denver's first female resident artist, was hiking Colorado's 14ers in a corset and high heels, to paint epic landscapes at a time when women seldom pursued careers of any kind. After Denver's Chinatown was attacked by angry mobs, she created a school to teach the oppressed Chinese immigrants the English language.

Jean Wirt Sherwood (1846-1938) presided over several Women's and Arts organizations in Chicago, creating safe spaces for working women in the late 19th century, and bringing cultural enrichment to people of all socio-economic levels. In 1898, she began lecturing on the Arts at the Boulder Chautauqua, fell in love with the Rocky Mountains, and, at age 65, started a time share - the Bluebird Organization - which ultimately brought over 5,000 self-supporting women from Chicago to Boulder and Gold Hill to vacation and restore their health.

Muriel Sibell Wolle (1898-1977) left New York City after falling in love with Colorado's ghost towns, a life-long romance. She chaired the University of Colorado, Boulder's Art Department for 20 years and taught for 40, championing students of all genders and races, in a time when the shadow of the KKK loomed large. She is best known for immortalizing the hundreds of mining and ghost towns of the American West in her publications, kindling an enduring interest in preserving local history.

Eve Drewelowe (1899-1988) was an astonishingly prolific artist whose body of work stretches from modernist landscape to surrealism to pure abstraction. She traveled to and documented over 36 countries, showed her work nationally and internationally, while always championed her local art culture. Throughout her life, despite social pressures, she was a tirelessly brash and outspoken feminist.

Isaiah Berlin: Philosopher of Freedom

The film traces the intellectual development of Isaiah Berlin (1909-1997) a leading thinker in the context of his life and times, through archival film and recordings of its subject, as well as interviews with his biographer Michael Ignatieff, his principal editor Henry Hardy, and pianist and writer Alfred Brendel, and others.

After Isaiah Berlin’s encounter with Russian poet Anna Akhmatova in 1945, he shifts from analytic philosophy to the history of ideas and develops his concepts of Liberty. Berlin and others speak of his other principle works: “The Hedgehog and the Fox”, his study of Tolstoy; Alexander Herzen; the effects of Romanticism.

The film will have its premiere at Wolfson College, Oxford University on November 14, 2018, followed by a screening at the Center for European Studies at Harvard on December 10, 2018.

Distributed by the Circulating Film Library, Museum of Modern Art, NY.

Director: Judith Wechsler

Editor: Erika O’Conor

72min. 2018.


“…a brilliant, deeply revealing account of one of the truly great minds of the twentieth century. We… are deeply in your debt for bringing him, his ideas and his times to life with such cinematic skill and penetrating discernment.”
— Orlando Patterson, Professor of Sociology, Harvard

“There is so much to appreciate in Judith Wechsler’s lovingly drawn portrait of Isaiah Berlin: the richness of the visuals and the nonverbal storytelling, the wonderful musical choices, the gem-like archival materials, and the seamless way the entire film has been knit together. The section on Berlin’s storied meeting with the great poet Anna Akhmatova is alone worth the price of admission, as they say. Overall, Berlin’s extraordinary life and work sparkle against the backdrop of a century whose darkness he witnessed firsthand.”
— Jeremy Eichler, music critic, Boston Globe, and Shostakovich scholar

“I much admired it. It could have been twice as long. …I was moved and exhilarated.”
— Alfred Brendel, pianist and writer

“I loved it! The balance between Berlin’s own words and those of others you interviewed was excellent and you portrayed the man, his ideas, and his context with great clarity and sympathy. His pluralism is such a welcome antidote to the tone of our public sphere today.”
— Ann Blair, Professor of History, Harvard

“A masterful work: sober, profoundly moving, historically comprehensive, intellectually suggestive at every turn — and consistently beautiful and often amusing to look at and listen to. The layering and dynamic configuration of the imagery, the rich visual-aural dimensions, complementing the wonderful characterizations and the interesting commentaries — The sections on Akhmatova are especially wonderful. Really memorable.”
— Howard Eiland, co-author Walter Benjamin. A Critical Life.

“It is an excellent introduction to IB’s life and thought, and insight into his personality, for the newcomer — while offering much to savor for the Berlin aficionado… You do a remarkably good job of managing to touch on all of the high-points in a short time-span. Technically, the film is superb. The matching of images to the narrative, which brings to accurate and authentic …visual life scenes…is particularly thrilling; and the choice and matching of music, too.”
— Joshua Cherniss, co-editor, The Cambridge Isaiah Berlin Reader

Aby Warburg Metamorphosis and Memory

Aby Warburg (1866-1929) was an innovative and influential art historian whose interests ranged from the Italian Renaissance to Hopi ritual dances, from frescoes to postage stamps, combining art and culturalhistory, anthropology and religion. He explored the after life of antiquity, the tensions between the Apollonian and the Dionysian, the rational and irrational, the secular and religious in Renaissance paintings of Italy, Germany and the Netherlands.   This one hour documentary traces the development of Warburg’s ideas in the context of his life and times and his personal struggle with depression and psychosis.   Told largely through Warburg’s own words and interviews with leading Warburg scholars in England, the US, and Germany.

Distributed by The Museum of Modern Art, NY, Circulating Film Library.

Directed by: Judith Wechsler

Edited by: Erika Volchan O'Conor



A brilliant and moving contribution to anthropology and art history, as well has given me a new and inspirational resource for deepening my own reflections on art and historicity. …
What an enormous amount of research and thought has been poured into this labor of love. For me it has paid off brilliantly - in a spate of edifying insights and new paths for thinking that no book could have given me.”
— Michael Jackson, Professor, Harvard Divinity School


Magnificent. A masterly film, an exposition of the possibility of desperate yet energizing internal contradictions in a person and in culture, and above all deeply moving experience.”
— Gerald Holton, Professor History of Science, Harvard


Brilliant—acutely intelligent, hauntingly and harrowingly moving, and so beautifully “collected” in its vision of that extraordinarily luminous, oracular conduit.”
— George Kalogeris. Poet, Classicist

Svetlana Boym: Exile and Imagination

A one hour documentary about the life and work of Svetlana Boym, literary and cultural critic, and media artist, who, in 1980, age 21, quit the USSR for the US. Within 7 years she was professor of comparative and Slavic literature at Harvard. A writer of ambitious scope, combining personal memoir with philosophical essay and historical analysis, she explored motifs of exile, nostalgia, the diasporic imagination and different forms of freedom. Through videos of her lectures, interviews (with Masha Gessen, Vitaly Komar and others), photographs, and her film, we convey Svetlana Boym’s brilliance, warmth and wit.

Director: Judith Wechsler

Editor: Erika Volchan O'Conor

Distributor: Musum of Modern Art, New York, Circulating Film Library

The Passages of Walter Benjamin

In 1933, Walter Benjamin, one of the most brilliant literary and cultural critics of his time, fled Berlin when the Nazis took over and headed for Paris. There he sat, at the Bibliothèque nationale, working in poverty and relative obscurity on his most important project, “The Arcades Project.”

With the backdrop of totalitarianism spreading across the European continent, Benjamin explored the origins of modernity. Praising the poet Charles Baudelaire and employing his emblematic characters especially the flâneur and the rag picker, Benjamin wanted to counter the “false semblance of totality.” This enormous incomplete study is both a collection of sources for a radical history of 19th century Paris and the basis for an allegorical critique of European fascism in the 1930s.

Benjamin had been interned in 1939 as an enemy alien and suffered from a heart condition. Despite his weakened condition, the only way out was to cross clandestinely over the Pyrenees to Spain on what should have been the way to the United States via Portugal. He carried a brief case that contained a manuscript he described as “more important than my life.” Refused at the border, his visa not recognized, and about to be turned over to the Gestapo, Benjamin took the morphine he had been carrying in his pocket, and committed suicide.

The material he carried with him was lost. But over a thousand pages of notes for the major work of his life were recovered from the Bibliothèque nationale after the war. The “Arcades Project,” published in an English edition in 1999, is one of the most brilliant interpretations of early modern life.

This film presents the “The Arcades Project” in the context of Benjamin’s life and times. True to the spirit of Benjamin, “fragments” from his life and work in the 1930s are points of entry to explore his wider biography, from his family and childhood in Berlin, to his unconventional education, his radio plays for children, his travel to Moscow, and his life in exile in Paris. The film addresses Benjamin’s concerns as a German-Jewish intellectual, his friendships, and his failed romances.


Directed by: Judith Wechsler

Edited by: Erika Volchan O'Conor & Benjamin Reichmann

Distributed by The Museum of Modern Art, NY, Circulating Film Library

Nahum N. Glatzer and the German-Jewish Tradition (2011)


Nahum N. Glatzer (1903-1990), was a noted Judaic scholar who exemplified scholarly integrity and the revivification of Judaic studies in a time of exile. The film explores the context of German-Jewish learning in which he developed and the theological, literary and philosophical worlds to which he contributed. A foremost disciple of the philosopher Franz Rosenzweig, Glatzer succeeded Martin Buber at the University of Frankfurt in the sole position in Jewish studies in Germany. Nahum and Anne Glatzer immigrated to Palestine in 1933 and then to the US in 1938, where he served as editor-in-chief of Schocken Books and presented among the first English editions of the work of Franz Kafka. Glatzer was the author of studies on Rosenzweig, Buber, Jewish history, midrashic literature, Wissenschaft des Judentums, and the connection between the Book of Job, the motif of the Tree of Knowledge, and Kafka’s writings. Glatzer went on to develop the Department of Near Eastern and Judaic Studies at Brandeis, which became the prototype for departments across the US. The film explores his life as a paradigm of movement from culture to culture and an emblem of what lives on in the transition, influencing many students and training a generation of Judaic scholars.

The film includes Glatzer lecturing, segments of an interview with him, interviews with former students and colleagues among them Professors Michael Fishbane, Everett Fox, Susanna Heschel, Paul Mendes-Flohr, Hilary Putnam, Bishop Krister Stendahl, as well as letters, photographs and documents.

Directed by: Judith Wechsler

Edited by: Erika Volchan O'Conor

Distributed by: the Center for Jewish Film.