A Film Unfinished (2010) - Plot Summary Poster


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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.

  • The Nazis were infamous for shooting propaganda films, many in the vein of romanticized stories of fiction purporting to be non-fiction. Ten years after the end of WWII, East German archivists began the process of cataloging the many reels of film found in storage. Among them is a one hour unfinished film, which contains no sound and no credits, but a working title of "Das Ghetto" (The Ghetto). Filmed largely within the Warsaw Ghetto in May 1942, it combines true life everyday scenes, with staged scenes of prosperous Jews in the ghetto living a joyous and decadent life. As such, the archivists have no idea of who the filmmaker is and the overall purpose of the film. Historians, over time, begin to piece together the story, largely from found journals, most specifically of Adam Czerniaków, the head of the Ghetto's Judenrat, and transcripts of the only known cameraman, Willy Wist, provided in war trials. The story becomes more complete with: filmmaker Yael Hersonski interviewing still alive Ghetto survivors, many who know first hand of the atrocities in their everyday life in the Ghetto, and many who remember both the filming and what Jews were asked to do for the cameras; and a later found reel of film - outtakes of the footage spliced together - which shows scenes which the Nazis never intended the world outside their circle to see.

  • 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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