A FILM UNFINISHED (2010) — Documentary Retroview

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film unfinished posterYael Hersonski’s A Film Unfinished is a remarkable holocaust documentary comprised primarily of previously unedited historic footage that was shot by Nazi filmmakers, ostensibly chronicling daily life in the infamous Warsaw Ghetto during World War II.

Raw Footage Seen As Historic Record

Most of the footage — 60 minutes of silent images — was discovered in East German archives, long after WWII ended. The raw footage was generally considered to be historic record — albeit presented from the Nazi perspective — of life within the walled district (read that as prison) where German authorities and their Polish sympathizers forced Jews to await their fate.

Ever since the footage was found, there’s been conjecture about why the Nazis chose to chronicle daily life in the Warsaw Ghetto, and heated debate about how to interpret the footage, which shows conditions contradictory to those known to have defined Warsaw Ghetto life.

The footage depicts a class of wealthy Jews who are entirely oblivious to the abject misery of impoverished Jews, implying that Jewish culture is selfish, antisocial and inferior to standards set by Aryan National Socialism.

In fact, Jews confined to the Warsaw Ghetto lived in cramped kennel-like accommodations, deprived of opportunities to work, rationed with 186 calories of food per day.

Daily life was a struggle for survival, and very few of the more than 400,000 Jews forced into the Warsaw Ghetto lived to tell of their suffering.

Recently, archivists discovered another reel of uncut Nazi-shot Warsaw Ghetto footage. The additional reel, as it turns out, elucidates that which is seen in the previously known 60 minutes of film.

In fact, the additional reel shows, without room for interpretation, that Nazi-shot scenes depicting happy, wealthy Warsaw Ghetto residents (read that as inmates) were actually staged. Not documented. Staged.

Setting the Record Straight

That, of course, opens the erstwhile historic record to reinterpretation, and puts a very different spin on historians’ notions about the way in which the Third Reich documented itself on film.

The footage used in A Film Unfinished is both harrowing and fascinating at the same time. You want to turn away from the gut wrenching, heartbreaking images, but what you see stimulates contemplation about how we filter memories of painful historic events and how the truth about heinous human behavior must be fully disclosed.

In A Film Unfinished, full disclosure comes via the testimony of a chorus of knowledgeable historians who provide essential background data, an actor reading the German cameraman’s written accounts and the presence of Warsaw Ghetto survivors who bear witness in on camera interviews and voice over narration.

It’s impressive that Hershonski and her team could locate survivors. They’re now aged, but their memories are still keen and their voices strong. They speak for all others who were silenced.

That Yael Hersonski’s grandmother was a Warsaw Ghetto survivor gives the director of A Film Unfinished a deeply personal involvement with her project. Yet, to her great credit, she proceeds in cool, clear and convincing way to unfold the facts, making her truly revelatory documentary all the more important and compelling.

However, the MPAA rates the film “R” for “disturbing images of holocaust atrocities including graphic nudity.” That, of course, prevents high school screenings. What a shame! Isn’t it crucial to set the historic record straight for youngsters, too?

Also of Interest:

Documentaries about the Holocaust and World War II
Hitler’s Hollywood — Documentary Review

Film Details:

Title: A Film Unfinished
Director: Yael Hersonski
Release Date: August 18, 2010 (limited release)
Running Time: 88 mins.
Parental Advisory: Content advisory for parents
Location: Germany, Israel
Language: German, Hebrew, Yiddish, Polish, with English subtitles
Distribution Company: Oscilloscope Pictures

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