About the Film
Rape of Europa

The Creators

Lynn H. Nicholas | Robert M. Edsel | Bonni Cohen | Richard Berge
Nicole Newnham | Jon Shenk | Josh Peterson | Marco d'Ambrosio | Joan Allen

The Writers

Lynn H. Nicholas

Lynn H. NicholasLynn H. Nicholas, author of The Rape of Europa, was educated in the United States, England, and Spain, received her B.A. from Oxford University and, upon her return to the U.S., worked for several years in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

While living in Belgium in the early 1980’s, she initiated what would become 10 years of research for her first highly acclaimed book.

The Rape of Europa was a winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award. She was elected to the Légion d’Honneur by the government of France, and in 2005 released her second book, Cruel World: The Children of Europe in the Nazi Web. Ms. Nicholas and her husband live in Washington, D.C.

Ms. Nicholas' perspective on the film >>
Interview of Lynn Nicholas >>

Robert M. Edsel

Robert M. Edsel Robert M. Edsel is the American author of the non–fiction book Rescuing Da Vinci, and a co–producer of the two–hour documentary film entitled The Rape of Europa.

Early Life

Robert Edsel was born on December 28, 1956 in Oak Park, Illinois and raised in Dallas, Texas by his parents, Alpha Ray and Norma Edsel. His mother, a housewife, spent her days teaching bridge, piano, and volunteering for various charities and organizations. Edsel’s father, Alpha Ray, is a World War II veteran (Marine Corps) and served in the Pacific. After the war, he returned to Oklahoma and attended college on the GI Bill and he later began his long career as a stockbroker at Smith Barney. Alpha Ray opened Smith Barney’s first regional office west of the Mississippi in Dallas in 1960 and remained manager of that office until he retired in 1994.

The oldest of three children, Robert Edsel attended a private boys school called St. Mark’s School of Texas in Dallas, renowned for its educational emphasis on communications skills, the arts, and athletics. This school not only provided Edsel with an invaluable education, but built the foundation for Edsel’s long-term passion for learning. As the leader of the St. Mark’s tennis team, Edsel regularly competed in state and regional tennis tournaments, maintaining state and national rankings.

Tennis Career

Edsel graduated from St. Mark’s in 1975 and briefly attended the University of Georgia. In pursuit of his passion, Edsel transferred to Southern Methodist University in 1976 to play on the school’s nationally ranked tennis team and participated in several professional qualifying tournaments. It was here that Edsel was presented with the opportunity to work for the World Championship Tennis (WCT), the principal tour organizer of men’s professional tennis at that time. As the assistant tournament director of the WCT Finals Tournament in Dallas – the most coveted men’s tennis title after the four Grand Slam tournaments – Edsel was exposed to new perspectives of the sport he loved. This led to a newfound interest in the business side of tennis; thus, opening doors to the next chapter of his life.

Oil and Gas Exploration

Graduating from SMU in 1979 with a B.A. in Finance, Robert Edsel was immediately offered a job as an administrative assistant to an independent oil and gas producer. The unique job sent Edsel on a fast-track learning process; and after a year and half of employment, Edsel embarked on his own. He began assembling oil and gas leases to create drilling prospects for sale to other oil and gas exploration companies, and particularly cultivated an expertise in the Giddings Austin Chalk Field in central Texas. From 1981 to 1986, Edsel successfully generated dozens of prospects that resulted in the drilling of more than 150 producing wells. In 1986, Edsel consolidated his oil and gas operations into a new company – Gemini Exploration Company – in which he began innovatively drilling and operating his own prospects.

Gemini Exploration pioneered the use of horizontal drilling technology throughout the early 1990s, which was particularly successful when applied to the existing older wells of Giddings field. This phenomenon received several technology awards and established the world record for the longest dual-opposing lateral well – totaling a combined horizontal displacement of 8,183 feet. Within a two-year period (1993-1995), Gemini Exploration grew from a company with eight employees to almost 100; and by 1995, Gemini had become the second most active driller of horizontal wells in the United States. Edsel sold the company’s assets to Union Pacific Resources Company (now a part of Anadarko Petroleum) in May 1995.

Exploring Life

Part of Edsel’s decision to sell his company’s assets was his plan to withdraw from active business to move to Europe with his wife, Brenda Schoenfeld, the well-known jewelry designer, and their three-year-old son, Diego. The family lived briefly in France before settling in Florence, Italy. Having worked virtually full-time since the age of nineteen, Edsel was determined to rid his mind of financial business and explore the true meaning of life. Thus, immersing himself in the cultures of France and Italy, Edsel focused upon learning about new languages, customs, art, and architecture. Edsel gained a true appreciation for the great masterworks and historical artifacts during this time, as he spent his days studying within the magnificent museums throughout Europe.

While in Florence, Edsel first learned about Hitler’s determination to build the world’s greatest museum and the subsequent theft of Europe’s most precious artwork by the Nazis. One day, while standing on the Ponte Vecchio, Edsel asked himself, “How did all of these great cultural treasures and works of art survive the devastating destructiveness or World War II? Who rescued them?” Thus was born the idea for Rescuing Da Vinci, leading Edsel on a great journey to locate the heros who had saved these great works of art and to discover their stories.

This newfound inspiration led Edsel to climb Mount Kilimanjaro with six friends in 1997. Upon his return, Edsel and his wife purchased a villa in the Bellosguardo area of Florence and began what would become a multi-year project of redesign and renovation of both the home and surrounding gardens. By the time he completed the project, Edsel had established a new standard of living by blending old world culture and ambiance with modern amenities and conveniences.

Creative Works

Eager to re-immerse himself in business and energized by his new passions for culture, Edsel attended a Harvard Business School course entitled “Odyssey: The Second Half of Life.” Following his divorce in 2000, Edsel lived for a time in New York City, where he committed himself to the Rescuing Da Vinci project. By 2004, those efforts had become a fulltime career. Edsel assembled a team of researchers who combed archives in more than a dozen countries for photographs and other documentation of this story, while he conducted a considerable amount of the research himself. By 2005, he had gathered thousands of photographs and other documents, and began writing the manuscript for Rescuing Da Vinci, ultimately published in 2006.

Continuing his creative streak, Edsel co-produced Actual Films’ documentary film, The Rape of Europa, based on the award-winning book by scholar Lynn Nicholas. In the fall of 2004, Edsel traveled with the filmmakers for nine weeks as they filmed throughout Europe and Russia. Additional shooting and editing in 2005 and 2006 incorporated the stunning conclusion of the Maria Altmann restitution case. The film will premiere at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts on November 12, 2006 with subsequent screenings in key museums across the country. It has also been accepted into numerous film festivals including the Boston, Washington, and New York Jewish Film Festivals, along with festivals in Denver and Palm Springs. It is narrated by acclaimed actress Joan Allen, and will be broadcast on PBS in April/May 2007.

Edsel also created and helped design websites for the both the book (www.rescuingdavinci.com) and the film (www.therapeofeuropa.com). The Rescuing Da Vinci website was recognized by www.coolhomepages.com as the “Site of the Week” and was also named a top 10 Education Oriented site from user reviews and ratings and a top 10 Flash site from user reviews and ratings. Additionally, Edsel created a blog on which he writes daily entries on subjects of interest including art, life, and heroes.

Future Projects

Edsel and his team worked with members of Congress for over a year to develop and ultimately passed a resolution that for the first time recognized and honored the Monuments Men invaluable role during World War II. The Congressional Resolution passed on January 31, 2007 and the Senate Resolution passed on June 6, 2007.

Edsel is also amidst in the creation of the “Monuments Men Library Project,” which will ensure texts, The Rape of Europa and Rescuing Da Vinci along with an extraordinary premium DVD which will include The Rape of Europa Documentary, unseen footage – both shot and archival along with a special program on the Monuments Men in the permanent placement in each and every library, including schools in the United States. This unique educational package will be available in 2008.

Community Service

Edsel has been a supporter and presence within the Children’s Medical Center, the Dallas Morning News Charities, and the United Way, amongst others. He dedicated nine years to service as a Trustee of St. Mark’s School of Texas, as Chairman of the Development Committee, a member of the Executive Committee and as President of the St. Mark’s Alumni Board (1987-1991). During his last two years of working with the School, Edsel developed the foundation for a capital campaign which has since raised more than $50,000,000. He has also served on the Board of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation (Dallas Chapter), the Advisory Board of St. Philip’s School and Community Center, and as a volunteer at the Union Gospel Mission.

Edsel founded the Cochran Chapel Homeowners Association in Dallas in 1993, serving as its President for the first three years. He is also a founding Trustee of Friends of Florence and served as its Vice President for its first two years.

Additionally, in 2003, Edsel served as Chairman of a committee working to develop a master plan for the Turtle Creek corridor in Dallas. In February 2004, the Committee gifted the master plan to the City of Dallas. It now serves as the City’s master plan for the Turtle Creek greenbelt. Edsel also serves on the Advisory Board of the Meadows Museum of Art, Dallas. In 2004, Edsel became a Board Member of the American Friends of the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Other Activities

Edsel has served as a director of Polaris Minerals Corporation, a Vancouver-based company, since July 2002. Polaris Minerals exclusively focuses on supplying construction aggregates from its two properties located on tidewater on the coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, to coastal urban markets on the western seaboard of North America. He is also a member of the Compensation Committee and Corporate Governance Committee.

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The Filmmakers

Bonni Cohen

Bonni CohenProducer / Director / Writer
Bonni Cohen founded Actual Films, an independent documentary film company based in San Francisco in 1998. She is currently producing Jon Else’s new film, Wonders Are Many, a documentary about the making of the Peter Sellars and John Adams new opera, Doctor Atomic.  Before The Rape of Europa, Cohen co-produced Democracy Afghan Style (2004, 80 minutes) about Afghanistan’s constitutional process for PBS in the United States and for Arté in France and Germany.  In 2003, she produced and directed The New Heroes, a series for PBS, hosted by Robert Redford, about social entrepreneurs around the world.  In 2001, Cohen produced and directed The Nobel: Visions of Our Century (2001, 56 minutes), a chronicle of 100 years of the Nobel Prize told from the perspectives of 11 Nobel laureates that was broadcast on PBS.  For the BBC, she directed and produced Eye of the Storm (1999, 55 minutes), an intimate, verité portrait of United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan that follows his diplomatic efforts from Baghdad to Nigeria to New York.  Eye of the Storm has been shown around the world in over 125 countries.  For PBS, she co-produced They Drew Fire (1998, 56 minutes), a portrait of the combat artists of World War II.  Her other works include The Human Sexes with Desmond Morris, a six-part, Emmy-nominated series about gender differences around the world and two episodes of the Emmy award-winning Eyewitness series for PBS. She was the producer of Jon Else’s film, Open Outcry (2000, 56 minutes), a documentary about the open trading pits at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.  

Before coming to documentary film, Bonni worked as a journalist for Reuters Television and NBC, based in London and Jerusalem. Ms. Cohen earned a Masters degree in Documentary Film from Stanford University in 1994 and a Bachelor’s degree in International Relations from Tufts University in 1987. She lives in San Francisco with her husband Jon Shenk and their children Abe and Anabel.

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Richard Berge

Richard BergeProducer / Director / Writer
Richard Berge is a documentary filmmaker who has made films for PBS, Showtime, A&E Biography, Omnimedia and the California Arts Council.  Before producing The Rape of Europa, he was a writer and producer for SPARK!, a weekly television series for KQED about the arts in the San Francisco Bay Area.  With director Barry Levinson, he produced Yesterday’s Tomorrows (2000, 100 minutes), a feature-length documentary that examines the human obsession with predicting the future.  The film is featured in a Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibition (SITES) that continues to tour the United States.  He line produced Sing Faster: The Stagehands' Ring Cycle (1999, 90 minutes), in association with producer/director Jon Else and Oregon Public Broadcasting.  The film was awarded the Filmmakers Trophy at the Sundance Film Festival and an Emmy for best cultural documentary.  He was production manager of In Search Of Law And Order (1998, 3 x 60 minutes), a documentary series about the American juvenile justice system produced by Roger Graef and Michael Schwarz for PBS and Channel 4, and production coordinator for Cadillac Desert (1997, 3 x 60 minutes), the landmark documentary series produced for PBS by Jon Else about history of the quest and struggle for water in the American West.  Before completing the Master’s program in Documentary Film at Stanford University in 1994, Berge received a BA in History from Stanford University and worked at the Santa Fe Opera in New Mexico and the Metropolitan Opera in New York.  He lives in San Francisco with his wife Eri Berge and daughter Alessandra.

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Nicole Newnham

Nicole NewnhamProducer / Director / Writer
Nicole Newnham is a documentary filmmaker and writer.  She recently co-produced and directed Sentenced Home (72 min., 2006), an award-winning documentary that follows three Cambodian refugees in Seattle who are deported back to Cambodia after 9/11. The film will air in May, 2007 on the  PBS series Independent Lens.  She field-produced the Emmy-nominated Skin (53 min., 2004), a documentary for PBS and National Geographic about the science and culture of human skin.  She co-produced They Drew Fire (1998, 56 minutes), a widely-acclaimed special for PBS about the combat artists of World War II, and authored the companion book distributed by Harper Collins.  Newnham was associate producer of Eye of the Storm (1999, 55 minutes), a verité profile of United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan that has been broadcast worldwide by the BBC.  She has been field producer and associate producer on several US/UK co-productions for Discovery and The Learning Channel, including Survivor (1996), a four-part series on the art of survival science and the Emmy-nominated The Human Sexes with Desmond Morris (1996).  Her film, Unforgettable Face (1994) screened at the Sundance Film Festival.  Ms. Newnham earned a Masters degree in Documentary Film from Stanford University in 1994.  She lives in Oakland with her husband Thomas Malarkey and son Finn.

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Jon Shenk

Jon ShenkDirector of Photography
Jon Shenk is a documentary filmmaker, cinematographer, and founder of Actual Films in San Francisco. He co–directed and photographed the Emmy–nominated Lost Boys of Sudan, winner of an Independent Spirit Award in 2004. He co–directed and photographed Democracy Afghan Style, a PBS/Arte film about the post-war constitutional process in Afghanistan. In 2005, he produced and photographed segments for The New Heroes, a PBS series about social entrepreneurs. He directed and photographed The Beginning about the making of Star Wars: Episode I. He recently wrote, produced and photographed “Blame Somebody Else,” a film for PBS’s new series, AIR. Shenk has produced and photographed many documentaries for PBS, A&E, Bravo, CBS, NBC, the BBC, and National Geographic. Shenk has been twice nominated for Emmy awards in cinematography.

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Josh Peterson

Josh Peterson is a freelance editor based in San Francisco, where he has been cutting documentaries and independent features since 1993.  For PBS, he recently edited Bloodlines: Technology Hits Home and The Nobel: Visions of Our CenturyThe Beginning: Making Episode I, which he edited for Lucasfilm’s DVD release of The Phantom Menace, has been called “the best DVD behind-the-scenes documentary ever made” by several reviewers. Girl Trouble, which won the Best Bay Area Documentary at the San Francisco International Film Festival, was praised for “outstanding editing by Josh Peterson” in Variety.  He has edited episodes of the PBS programs Wide Angle and FRONTLINE/ World, and segments for The News Hour with Jim Lehrer. Mr. Peterson graduated from Harvard in 1991 with an honors degree in History.

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The Composer

Marco d'Ambrosio

Marco d'AmbrosioComposer
Marco d’Ambrosio is a composer, producer, trumpet player and all-around noise wrangler.  He has scored numerous award winning films, documentaries and live theatre projects including the anime hit Vampire Hunter D Bloodlust, Haiku Tunnel (Sundance 2001), the Emmy winning documentary Blink, and recently Emmy nominated Self-Made Man for PBS and Red Diaper Baby for the Sundance Channel. In 2005, Marco was one of six accomplished composers awarded a fellowship from the Sundance Institute. The Rape Of Europa is the fifth project Marco has scored for Actual Films.

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The Narrator

Joan Allen

Joan AllenThree–time Oscar nominee Joan Allen is one of the film world’s busiest actresses. In 2000, she was nominated for a Golden Globe, a SAG Award, an Independent Spirit Award and an Academy Award for Best Actress for her starring role in The Contender. For her role in 1996 as Pat Nixon in Oliver Stone’s Nixon, she received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress and won 7 critics association awards, including the L.A. Film Critics Association and the National Society of Film Critics Awards. Allen received her second consecutive Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination in 1997 for her role in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. She has appeared in numerous other feature films including Yes, The Upside of Anger, Off the Map, The Bourne Supremacy, Bonneville, Pleasantville, Face–Off, The Ice Storm, Compromising Positions, Peggy Sue Got Married, Manhunter, Tucker The Man And His Dream, Ethan Frome, Josh and S.A.M., In Country, Searching for Bobby Fisher, Mad Love, It’s the Rage, and When the Sky Falls. Allen is also one of the New York theater world’s most honored actresses and winner of every major prize for her work on and off–Broadway.

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