THREE MINUTES: A LENGTHENING – Review by Beth Accomando

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In 1972, Jean-Luc Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin proved that you could make an entire film with a single image. Letter to Jane: An Investigation about a Still was a cinematic essay that deconstructed a news photo of actress and activist Jane Fonda – dubbed “Hanoi Jane” by her critics at the time — visiting Hanoi and photographed with Vietnamese communists. Whether you liked the film or agreed with the commentary by Godard and Gorin, the film proved that a picture can be worth far more than a thousand words.

This idea but with different motivation also fuels Three Minutes – A Lengthening.

The three minutes of the title refers to a home movie shot by David Kurtz in 1938 in a Jewish town in Poland. The footage is presented as the only moving images left of the Jewish inhabitants of Nasielsk before the Holocaust. But unlike Godard and Gorin whose investigation focused on the social, political, and cultural ramifications of a Hollywood star visiting Hanoi during the Vietnam War, filmmaker Bianca Stigter’s investigation is about keeping the past alive through fleeting moving images.

Stigter constructs the film exclusively from those three minutes of home movies – some in color, some black and white, all silent. She slows the images down, freezes moments, and zooms in for closer inspection. In some ways it plays out like a police procedural as the identities of some of the people are discovered and tiny details are used to determine where the footage was shot and what was going on. A single store sign is examined and re-examined to figure out what the store was and who might have owned it. Deciphering blurred letters becomes like a word game that leads to the name of the shop owner.

The reason for all this investigation is to remember these people, many of whom did not survive the Holocaust. The film can’t bring them back to life but it can pay tribute to the life they lived. Cities have statues honoring the dead but Stigter wants these brief moving images to be a more vibrant memorial.

The film takes us on a fascinating journey of research and detective work to create a vibrant and moving portrait of life in this small village. At one point Stigter fills the screen with a collage of portraits of each of the more than one hundred people appearing in the film. Only a fraction of them are identified by name. But seeing these faces fill the screen and knowing that they represent only a tiny fraction of the people who were killed or displaced during the Holocaust is deeply moving.

My only complaint about the film is that when a person is identified by name, it is sometimes done in such a way that you do not know which of the multiple people in the frame is actually the one being discussed. Highlighting the person to separate them from the group would have been nice but this is a minor complaint in an otherwise remarkable film.

Adding to the images are the voices of Glenn Kurtz, grandson of David Kurtz, who shares what little knowledge he has of the footage and Maurice Chandler, who was identified as one of the boys in the film, shares his memories. Actress Helena Bonham Carter provides the narration written by Stigter.

Three Minutes – A Lengthening proves that you can create something richly layered and rewarding from something as seemingly trivial as a few minutes of home movies.

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Beth Accomando

Beth Accomando is host of KPBS Cinema Junkie Podcast and author of the blog Cinema Junkie. She also programs film series and events as part of Film Geeks SD at venues such as Museum of Photographic Arts and Digital Gym Cinema. She loves horror, zombies, kaiju and film noir.