Sat, April 19, 2014 /       View Shabbat / Jewish Calendar

JewishBoston.com

A Film Unfinished Uncovers the Story behind the Story of Warsaw Ghetto Footage

by Molly Parr / August 23, 2010

created at: 2010-08-23

 

For nearly half a century, historians of the Holocaust used 60 minutes of supposedly raw film labeled "The Ghetto" discovered in an East German archive at the end of WWII as an authentic representation of Jewish life in the ghetto. But the discovery, in 1998, of another reel containing multiple takes and staged scenes has cast the entire project in a more sinister light. That turn from history to propaganda is the subject of A Film Unfinished, the feature-length documentary debut of Israeli filmmaker Yael Hersonski, premiering in Boston Sept. 24.

Rather than dismissing the footage as tainted, Hersonski makes it the centerpiece of her documentary, providing context through historical documents like the journal of the Jewish official in charge of the Ghetto and the testimony of one of the filmmakers. Through this process she unravels the dark intentions behind seemingly innocuous images. Scenes of naked men and women immersing themselves in a mikveh become profane when one realizes they are doing so under duress. Wealthy Jews showing indifference to the destitute, literally starving to death on the street become more heartfelt than heartless once when Hersonski shows the multiple takes the Nazis filmed to achieve the desired effect.

Hersonski choose to show the footage to five survivors of the Ghetto and film their reactions as they watched the new footage. "Emotionally, that was one of the most challenging of experiences of the film," she said. "Real people suffered. I didn't want to be the one bringing them more suffering." But the survivors insisted on watching, and their presence in the final film gives it a powerful emotional resonance.

Hersonski "never dared to imagine" how well her film has been received. "People were surprised at how well they could be attached emotionally to black and white footage," the filmmaker said of the reaction at its world premier at the Sundance Film Festival, where it won a prize for World Cinema Documentary Editing. "People felt they were in a time tunnel."

 

Post Comments

Older Comments

Icon_missing_thumb
Masha Dolnikova
August 28, 2010

A Film Unfinshed" is though-provoking but problematic. While decrying the propagandistic nature of the Nazi footage it very partially "deconstructs", the film uses this footage as documentation, or at least "generic illustration" of real life in the ghetto, when it supplements the survivor testimonies in the film. Is the film propaganda or is it documentary, or perhaps both? Furthermore, what purpose is served by including all of the horrifying footage, with sterile post-modern questions of "point of view", "looking and looking away" hovering in the air as we stare voyeuristically at terrified people on their way to annihilation?! Most people know nothing about the Warsaw Ghetto (through no fault of their own), and will come away thinking that this is its story, despite the didactic attempts to show us some of the more obviously manipulated sequences. But this footage leaves out so much more than it shows: daily Nazi terror, including random round-ups and murders, and, ultimately mass deportations to Treblinka, as well as the valiant attempts at resistance by the Jews in the ghetto, not only those preparing armed rebellion, but the many teachers, rabbis, health workers and others whose ad-hoc organizations are a heroic chapter in the history of the ghetto known primarily by historians only. Finally, trying to finds out more or at least to speculate about the true purpose of the film and its intended audience would have been much more useful than the rather indulgent "re-enactment" of the deposition of the obscenely disingenuous Nazi Filmmaker, Willy Wist.

Events

Kosher L'Pesach Jazz Brunch
Sunday, April 20, 2014

Kosher L'Pesach Jazz Brunch

Ahavath Torah Congregation
Tremont Street Shul 20s&30s
Tuesday, April 22, 2014

HametzFest

Tremont Street Shul 20s&30s
Vilna Shul, Boston's Center for Jewish Culture
Thursday, April 24, 2014

A Bissel Schlissel Challah Baking Workshop

Vilna Shul, Boston's Center for Jewish Culture
Yavilah McCoy & Alexi Parashcos "Elements of Jewish Gospel"
Saturday, April 26, 2014

Yavilah McCoy & Alexi Parashcos "Elements of Jewish Gospel"

Temple Hillel B'nai Torah
The Shoah in Israeli Culture, Memory, and Politics
Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Shoah in Israeli Culture, Memory, and Politics

Schusterman Center for Israel Studies
A Tribute to Israeli Song
Tuesday, April 29, 2014

A Tribute to Israeli Song

Jewish Music Theater
Auschwitz or Sinai: Israel and the Culture of Memory
Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Auschwitz or Sinai: Israel and the Culture of Memory

Hebrew College
Swizzle n Sizzle Shabbat in Natick
Friday, May 02, 2014

Swizzle n Sizzle Shabbat in Natick

Jewish Community Centers of Greater Boston
Boston vs. New York: Who's Funnier? Featuring Improv Asylum and Upright Citizens Brigade
Saturday, May 03, 2014

Boston vs. New York: Who's Funnier? Featuring Improv Asylum and Upright Citizens Brigade

Jewish Community Centers of Greater Boston