Independent Lens: A Film Unfinished

Independent Lens: A Film Unfinished

Tue, 05/03/2011 - 10:00pm

Pictured: Still from INDEPENDENT LENS "A Film Unfinished."

Credit: Courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories 

This haunting film about a film examines a classic Nazi propaganda film used by historians for decades to provide insight into the realities of life in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1942.

In 1954, 60 minutes of raw footage once belonging to the Third Reich was discovered inside a concrete vault in East Germany. Shot in 1942 in the urban concentration camp known as the Warsaw Ghetto, the film juxtaposed shocking images of starvation and despair against scenes of wealthy Jewish residents enjoying fine dinners, dancing in nightclubs, and attending the theater. In 1998 — 44 years later — two additional film cans were found, revealing that the vignettes of the “good life” had been staged by the Nazis to create a hideously false impression. Directed by Yael Hersonski, A Film Unfinished probes deeply into the making of this now infamous Nazi propaganda film. The film will have its broadcast television premiere on the Emmy® Award winning PBS series Independent'Lens, hosted by America Ferrera,'on Tuesday, May 3, 2011 at 10 PM on WXXI-TV (DT21.1/cable 11/cable 1011). The film was released theatrically by Oscilloscope Laboratories.
Presenting the raw footage in its entirety, A Film Unfinished contains diary entries kept by the Jewish Council leader in Warsaw, court transcripts featuring testimony from a cameraman who shot the movie, and scenes of ghetto survivors reacting as they watch the film. After more than 70 years, no one has been able to find a single document revealing the identity of the film’s initiators, the purpose of the mysterious film, or why it was never completed.

Hersonski points out that the Holocaust not only presented inconceivable horrors, but also, for the first time, systematically documented those horrors. What does the footage, created by the perpetrators, tell us about the victims?  
“For me, it begins with the victim’s gaze into the camera,” she says. “That gaze contains what is perhaps the only emotional truth not crushed under the wheels of propaganda, the only truth that cannot be possessed and that remains forever, as if to testify: ‘I was there, I existed in this world that words cannot describe.’”

Why the Nazis chose to make, then abandon, this propaganda film will never be known.  What A Film Unfinished showcases, with its scene-by-scene refutation of “reality,” is the importance of bearing witness, and the reminder that image does not necessarily mean “truth.”