Director Caroline Kaye peers past a foreground of boisterous family gatherings, to reconcile her family’s tragic past with their apparent joy. Kaye has always had a naïve fascination with her grandparents’ wartime love story. Filmed over the course of 30 years, she unravels the complex realities of WWII, the Holocaust, and its aftermath. Through pivotal developments in her own perspective, Caroline ultimately reclaims the romantic notion that joy and tenacity not only endure, but drive us forward. Accompanied by original art and vibrant landscapes of Greece, LEFT LANE STRAIGHT takes a timely look at the human condition and how personal interactions with history impact generations to come.

In the mountains of Northern Greece, overlooking the Aegean Sea, a community of Sephardic Jews live in the prosperous “little Paris,” Kavala. Carolina Varon attends Jewish school, dreams of becoming a nurse, and hopes to become the first girl in her family to graduate high school. But in the late 1930s, as the European political climate begins to shift, her course is dramatically altered. Her fiancé’s father, with his political influence and military intuition, abandons his affluence to bring his family to the safety of Italian-controlled southern Greece. Narrowly escaping a Bulgarian death camp, his son Daniel soon follows, eventually convincing Carolina to join him. Carolina leaves behind her beloved family and undertakes a harrowing journey through Bulgarian- and German-occupied Greece to join the Alhanati family in Volos. Through incredible tales of kindness, survival, rebuilding, and immigration, Carolina is revealed as a remarkable woman. She is not simply saved by her betrothed, but, through her own strength and skills, becomes a savior for her new family…and is in return nourished by their embrace.

By-products of displacement, the family’s second and third generations add to the survival narrative with their own experiences and perspectives. They explore how the stories shared by the survivors influence what they, themselves, have held on to and what they have sought to reclaim from the family’s loss. They acknowledge how deeply their family thrives on being together and how, for better or for worse, this unity has served as an essential healing tool since the war.

As the director accumulates footage over the years, her understanding of her family’s identity shifts. Through expert interviews and reflection, she uncovers how wartime traumas transfer across generations. LEFT LANE STRAIGHT delves into crucial moments in both family and world history weaving together the universal realities of regeneration, the embodiment of survival, and the hard work of joy.

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