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A True Story of Family Lost and Found

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Emily, Blanche and Lebuse are not your typical CD-ROM heroines.

They do not ride around in space ships, sing cute songs or solve math puzzles. They are not from the land of make-believe.

These three sisters, originally from Prague, had their lives torn apart by World War II. At the end of the fighting, two of them--Emily and Blanche--began a decades-long quest to find Lebuse, who disappeared in the wake of upheavals in Eastern Europe.

It’s a true story and an unlikely one to tell on CD-ROM, a genre still most closely associated with games. But for Emily’s grandson, Robert Lenehan, the story was the perfect source material. Two years ago in New York, with a borrowed computer, he began making the CD-ROM, “Lebuse’s Letters.”

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“It was my thesis project at the School of Visual Arts,” said Lenehan, speaking from his home in Bethesda, Md. “I wanted to work out a new way of telling a story, and this is a story I knew well.”

When he was growing up, Emily lived with Lenehan’s parents, but he didn’t know many details until after Emily died about 10 years ago. Then Lenehan discovered a packet of letters and other documents his grandmother had saved.

The packet, tied by a blue satin ribbon, is the first image you see in “Lebuse’s Letters.” “I wanted to re-create my experience of taking off the ribbon and looking at these papers one by one, in no particular order,” Lenehan said. The interactive nature of CD-ROMs offered him the chance to do that.

Lenehan divided the story into 12 segments, each linked to a key document Emily had saved. After an opening sequence, the CD-ROM presents a graphics-rich menu from which any one can be chosen.

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Each segment begins with a collage of images, including the key document. You can start by reading that, and then click around the screen to unearth other papers, audio sequences and short videos.

For example, one segment is anchored by a letter Emily wrote to a government official during her search for Lebuse. There is a home movie clip showing Emily and Blanche in America, plus photos and audio re-creations of conversations.

The photos and videos are real. Some of the documents that were originally in languages other than English have been translated, but Lenehan tried to approximate their looks.

While the graphics are stunning, not all of “Lebuse’s Letters” works well. The worst are the badly acted audio segments.

But the story is so rich and the look of the piece so evocative that this CD-ROM--produced for the extremely low figure of $1,000, partly because Lenehan had access to school equipment--is far more intriguing than most. Like an independent filmmaker, Lenehan has produced a work that would not likely get backing from a major distributor.

Indeed, he’s distributing it himself. To order, call (301) 230-2745. The cost is $39.95, and it works on both Macintosh and Windows formats.

* Cyburbia’s e-mail address is david.colker@latimes.com.


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