A film about an unfinished film which portrays the people behind and before the camera in the Warsaw Ghetto, exposing the extent of the cinematic manipulation forever changing the way we look at historic images.
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Yael Hersonski's powerful documentary achieves a remarkable feat through its penetrating look at another film-the now-infamous Nazi-produced film about the Warsaw Ghetto. Discovered after the war, the unfinished work, with no soundtrack, quickly became a resource for historians seeking an authentic record, despite its elaborate propagandistic construction. The later discovery of a long-missing reel complicated earlier readings, showing the manipulations of camera crews in these "everyday" scenes. Well-heeled Jews attending elegant dinners and theatricals (while callously stepping over the dead bodies of compatriots) now appeared as unwilling, but complicit, actors, alternately fearful and in denial of their looming fate. Written by
Sundance Film Festival
It's all been a terrible mistake and misunderstanding.
By the time Adolf Hitler (b. 1889) had written Mein Kampf (My Struggle) he had already surmised that at least half of Germany's problems during World War 1 were due to the lack of vision and skill to use and project propaganda, to give it its political tag, enlightenment. This, the method of control of the mind, body and soul to enhance its people to complete dominance, oppression and obedience of the Will through fear, hatred, paranoia, to the point of xenophobia. Hitler had learned his lesson with extreme interest and with the onslaught of his uprising to the days of his decline he had used the medium of the moment; film.
Dr. (Paul) Joseph Goebbels (b. 1897), Hitler's appointed minister for Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda, had total control over all mediums, and film and cinema were to be his greatest ally. (Worthy of note here is the David Welch book "Propaganda and the German Cinema; 1933-1945" that delves into the mind and machine that is both Goebbels and his highly controlled medium which analyses major German propaganda film and documentaries of that era).
Here, with reel one, with A Film Unfinished, we see the birth of an idea that bears fruition but is never completed; the title of this film, within this documentary that is being examined is, simply, called The Ghetto. With no dialogue, no sound but simply a moment caught in time, it is, on first viewing, an account of life within the Ghetto of Warsaw: good, bad or indifferent. It is with this in mind that we are given an account of several interwoven worlds; we are shown the rich, the poor, the destitute and those with, seemingly, influence all congesting in one tiny mass of land, three square miles, committing to weddings, parties, funerals, a circumcision and life, all 400,000.
What A Film Unfinished tries to dispel here is the fact that with the finding of a second reel, later, the whole process before now looks very much tainted and dubious, Ms. Yael Hersonski has uncovered a conspiracy of fear and total obedience within the Warsaw Ghetto, conducted by the Nazi propaganda machine. Breaking the myth that what we have witnessed beforehand has been nothing more than a fabricated, constructed and manipulated tool to express how the Nazi regime and in particular, the Jewish community here, were living life happily, freely and independently.
This valid point of photo manipulation begs the question "What can we believe?", if this second reel had never been found would we still, with extreme caution perhaps, take the whole scenario for granted? What Ms. Hersonski has done is to discharge the myth of life, not so much as in the Ghetto, but the Nazis' point of view of life within its streets, with the account of first hand witnesses' and to have, too, an account from one of the Nazi camera crew. All making their point very well, an elaborate hoax.
What cannot be covered up with lies here is the squalor, deprivation and hunger that conflicts with the affluent rich that coincide with this open prison, this, just may have been the image that the Nazi propaganda machine wanted to project, a polar opposite of a community living side-by-side. To steer both resentment and disgust for these people by portraying them as weak and at the same time a selfish race.
The scene in which children caught with food under their clothing and forced to empty their pockets, seeing the food spill out onto the street, is both heartbreaking and at the same time untrustworthy, again, one has to be careful in judging what we see, as we have now become aware that not all we see is accountably factual. This is the power of the medium of film and this, too, ironically, is the power of Ms. Hersonski work here. Raising questions that need to be asked, has the documentary film ever been so poorly placed, so exposed to the point of questionable doubt. Can we truly believe in what we are seeing, even with today's medium playing its role in contemporary societies? There is only one possible simple answer, one possible simple solution, trust not in what you see on the screen but trust more in what one has to say, to hear and to experience. This is where the true documentary lies.
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