During the November 8 session of the Research Forum our students had the privilege of watching A Film Unfinished and engaging in a discussion with producer Itay Ken-Tor following the screening. The film incorporates 45 minutes of 60 hours of raw footage shot by the Nazis in the Warsaw Ghetto in May 1942. The Nazis called the propaganda film “Ghetto” and for some reason it was never edited or completed. For decades the footage has been seen as authentic and historians and documentary filmmakers have used images from it to illustrate the conditions in the Warsaw Ghetto. A Film Unfinished juxtaposes the raw footage with survivor testimony, excerpts of primary sources from individuals who lived in the Warsaw Ghetto, and trial testimony given by one of the film’s cameramen to shed light on the problem of using archival material intended for a propaganda film to illustrate history. The film raises the question of truth. What is real? What is staged? What is historical truth? How can we trust images taken by one side?
The footage from the unfinished Nazi propaganda film is very hard to watch. Scenes of abject poverty and human suffering, including the burial of dead in mass graves and starving children begging, is shown along side footage of well dressed Jews eating a lavish meal in a restaurant. Since the film was not finished and there is no narrator we don’t know the intent behind the staged scenes and what the message of the propaganda was supposed to be. Was the film intended to show how well some Jews lived in the Warsaw Ghetto or the lack of compassion the wealthy Jews has for those living in dire poverty? We may never know. The question remains how this graphic footage intended for a propaganda purpose should be used, if at all. The filmmakers decided to use the footage the Nazis shot of women and men in a mikvah. As a result there was a debate about what rating the film should be given and what ages it is appropriate to show the film to in an educational setting.
After watching the film the producer Itay Ken-Tor spoke to our students about the film. He said that the film is not a Holocaust film but one about truth. Ken-Tor was asked what message he wants children who see the film to take away from it. His response was that thee are many layers to the film but to him the most important message for children are the way images are controlled and manipulated. He wants children to question everything they see in the mainstream media and on YouTube etc. Ken-Tor also spoke about the reception he and the film received at film festivals in various countries. In addition to hearing his perspective our students were able to ask questions of the producer and engage in a dialogue with him. One fascinating topic of discussion was whether or how our students would use the film to teach about the Holocaust.
A Film Unfinished opened up a critical debate about the use of propaganda footage and our students were fortunate enough to view the film and discuss it with the producer Itay Ken-Tor.
Interested in applying for our MA in Holocaust Studies Program? You can find the application and more information at our website: http://holocaust-studies.haifa.ac.il/