AJC Seattle Jewish Film Festival’s Haunting DocumentaryMarch 16th, 2011 | Posted by in Film Festivals
With the AJC Seattle Jewish Film Festival in full swing here in the emerald city, one of the most talked about films is the Yael Hersonski directed feature, A Film Unfinished. This 2010 documentary focuses on a Nazi propaganda film shot entirely within the three square miles of the Warsaw ghetto, which was essentially a holding pen for an estimated 300,000 Jews before they were ultimately transported to the Treblinka extermination camp. This hour long collection of footage, simply labeled Das Ghetto, was shot in the month of May in 1942, only two months before the deportations began. Although long believed to be accurate representation of life within the ghetto walls, Hersonski skillfully strips away the allusions, revealing the falsities of the film.
SJFF director Pamela Lavitt and University of Washington professor Richard Block, of the Germanics Department, introduced the Seattle screening. Block gave the audience a slight idea of what to expect with this moving documentary, however, the images and video clips themselves were far more disturbing than anyone could have realized.
Brief clips taken from Das Ghetto are shown with audio from a taped interview with Willy Wist, one of the cameramen who filmed Das Ghetto, readings from the daily journals of Adam Cherniakov, the head of the Warsaw Ghetto’s Jewish Council who worked closely with the Germans before taking his own life, and the painfully detailed reports of the ghetto commissioner Heins Auerswald. The most moving, however, are the filmed reactions of five survivors who watch the clips with faces full of recognition. For the viewers in Seattle, these camps are something so horrific they are unimaginable. For the survivors on the screen, they are able to recognize streets, buildings and bodies. One woman described how as a child she was immune to the corpses, the piles of feces and the brutality of the German soldiers; however, when watching the film now, she broke down. “I am happy to cry now. I cry now because I am human again” the subtitles read.
The film was the winner of the Sundance Film Festival’s World Cinema Documentary Editing award, and rightfully so, editor Joëlle Alexis does an amazing job seamlessly linking the choppy films excerpts with survivor reactions. The musical score, done by Ishai Adar, was also a crucial element. Similar with its emotional draw to a suspense or thriller soundtrack, the music seems to reach beyond the end of the film, causing viewers to know without a doubt the future of the people they are witnessing.
A Film Unfinished is a haunting, and beautifully done, documentary that truly is a fantastic piece of historic record. Have any of you film fans seen A Film Unfinished? What were your thoughts? For those Seattle movie lovers, have you seen any of the SJFF this last week? Any favorites picked so far?