My friend R. and I went to see Yael Hersonski's documentary A Film Unfinished last night. It won a prize for editing at the Sundance Film Festival and is now in a short theatrical release (two weeks) here in NYC.
This is a film about a film. In the last few months before the liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto, a Nazi film crew spent a month filming Jews in the Ghetto to make a propaganda film. The resulting film was found in the East German archives in the 1950s. It had been edited but not completed - there were no titles or credits and no sound track. Although it was understood to be a propaganda film, it was also the only filmed representation of life in the ghetto, and clips from it have been put in many films about the Holocaust, with an assumption that what was represented in the film was largely a true depiction of Ghetto life. Then in the 1990s a reel of outtakes was found, showing how much of the film was staged, with the "actors" performing at gunpoint.
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Although I found it difficult to sit through and expect to be haunted by it for some time, I'm glad I saw A Film Unfinished. It's thought-provoking and moving and has worthwhile things to say about how film can be used to illuminate, to educate, to reveal but also to deceive and to conceal. I recommend it.
I first heard about this film last week on a local radio program, in an interview with the director. The interview is here and worth hearing.