It is interesting sometimes to see how a filmmaker stumbles onto material that makes for a fascinating film. I have chosen today to write about two filmmakers who found material that offered extraordinary opportunities for documentary filmmaking on the subject of the Holocaust.
The Green Dumpster Mystery by Tal Haim Yoffe (2008, 50 min.) התעלומה במכולה הירוקה offers a tragic family story. From a few pictures and documents that he finds in a garbage bin, the filmmaker sets out like a detective, following the trail of hints, trying to uncover the stories and backgrounds of the people in the photographs. The filmmaker solves riddles of Jewish history, suffering and rebirth, as he goes on a search for family roots of people he has never met, making their family his family, and their story his story. He discovers a couple who fled, during the war, from Poland to Siberia where they worked in forced labor, then to Samarkind where their first daughter was born and died. They came to Israel via Lodz and Frankfurt, to poverty in old Jaffa, and lost their son in the Yom Kippur War. Thus a family story of Holocaust survivors unfolds before our eyes.
The film won the Yad Vashem award in the category of the Jewish Experience at the Jerusalem Film Festival (July 2008) and is available from the filmmaker Tal Haim Yoffe at email@example.com
The Green Dumpster Mystery is narrated by the film director who became personally affected and involved with his subject matter. Similarly, Ra'anan Alexandrowicz, the director of Martin מרטין became personally involved with his story. Both films are narrated in the first person and both filmmakers succeeded in creating a sense of drama as the viewer is also given the opportunity to follow the same path and experience what the filmmaker experienced. As a result, these two films personalize the Shoah in unique ways.
Produced as a personal documentary, the story of Martin (1999, 50 min.) begins when the filmmaker finds himself in Munich as a tourist and he goes with some friends to visit the Dachau concentration camp. Since he suffers from "Holocaust fatigue" and is rather apathetic to issues of memory, he isn't very impressed with Dachau, it’s just another museum. Then he and his friends meet Martin, a lonely old man, who spends his days at the camp memorial, obsessively telling his story to anyone who will listen. And what is remarkable with this film is that we see how the encounter with Martin brings a new understanding and awareness of the importance of memory to the young Israeli filmmaker.
After meeting Martin for the first time, the filmmaker realizes that he has questions for him. In fact, at first he is dubious of his story. He wants to ask him: why does everyone say the gas chambers in Dachau never worked, but you remember hearing the screams? So they go back to Dachau and look for Martin. They also have a chance to meet Martin at his home, where he sings Jewish melodies from his youth. The filmmaker says there were “bits and pieces of memories from which Martin’s story came alive for us," and we watch as the film shifts in its perception of Martin.
The film also presents the shocking complacency of the people of the town of Dachau and their attempt at rationalizing and minimalizing what happened there. The people are unable to say what we want to hear – it was a terrible thing that happened here, but it was in the past, so let’s get on with things. Instead, they are attempting to negate or minimize what happened here. And we have all read about similar denial among young Germans, today.
At the end of the film, this filmmaker who was so nonchalant about even visiting Dachau for the first time, finds himself caught up in his relationship with the survivor – so absorbed that he wants to learn more and pursue the subject further.
The film is available from the filmmaker at firstname.lastname@example.org