What is history and how does it enter our consciousness and become historical fact? Even documentary films are somewhat "staged", but to what extent does this enter our consciousness when we are viewing them? Our memory of the Holocaust is certainly through films, both drama and documentary, which have engraved on our minds a sort of cinematic memory of that time. But how can we know what is propaganda and what is reality?
Filmmaker Yael Hersonski has taken an otherwise unknown and unfinished Nazi propaganda film about the Warsaw Ghetto, and has created new layers of reality in order to help us remember. Her film, A Film Unfinished, which won a prize for best documentary at the Jerusalem Film Festival (July 2010), utilizes the partially edited, never completed film that she found in the archives of Germany, a propaganda film created by the Third Reich, shot in the Warsaw Ghetto during May 1942. In voice-over, she tells the viewer that "the cinematic deception was forgotten and the black-and-white images were engraved on memory as historical truth." This is the story of a propaganda film.
Hersonski combines the footage of the archival film with the story of the Warsaw Ghetto. We see so many faces, so many children, so much suffering. The sound-track includes readings from the daily diary entries of the head of the Judenrat and readings from the diaries of Ringelblum. In addition, she has interviewed survivors watching the footage, looking for people they knew, while their comments and impressions are used to help us identify what we are watching. There is also an interrogation protocol with the man behind the camera, who talks about what he saw and what he filmed, the contrasts and extremes of life in the ghetto – staged luxury versus actual poverty, hunger, dead bodies, and mass graves. There is even some footage shot in color by another cameraman for his own personal collection.
This was May 1942, 30 days of shooting, only two months before the beginning of the deportations to Treblinka.
A Film Unfinished is available from Go2Films and from Cinephil