Tuesday, March 8, 2011
Circle of Trust #7: A Film Unfinished (2010)
I'm interrupting your normal internet browsing tomfoolery for another look into the films distributed by Oscilloscope Laboratories. The latest entry in their growing catalog of modern classics, which I received through my Circle of Trust subscription, is director Yael Hersonski's A Film Unfinished.
Hersonski's directorial debut is a documentary telling the tale of a German film discovered shortly after World War II. Labeled "Ghetto" it was thought to be real footage of life in the Jewish ghetto of Warsaw during the war; thus it was treated as such for many years becoming a valuable resource for filmmakers looking to utilize archival footage. Year later though; through the discovery of outtakes, cut footage, personal journals, and eye witness testimony "Ghetto" is revealed to be one of the third reich's cleverest propaganda pieces hiding in plain sight. Blending the aforementioned documents together, Hersonski creates an interesting and heartfelt documentary that not only opens one's eyes to the some of the horrific footage shot under the Nazi regime (which we've seen in docs before) but gets one to truly question the original purpose and intent of all archival footage they've been exposed to.
Just presenting information like this would be enough to warrant a watch but the way in which it's presented keeps the viewer interested and enthralled. The viewer learns of the important discovery relatively early in the film and is even shown a few clips of the original footage altered to have particular people highlighted. These highlighted individuals clearly react contrary to what is being established by others in the scene and reveals that hints of its false nature were there the entire time. After this I couldn't help but looking for people doing the same through out the rest of the film, just one of the ways the director draws in your attention and assures it throughout. Intermittent in the film, we are shown survivors watching the footage who expound on what is actually going on, why people are reacting a certain way, and their memories of other ghetto prisoners. This becomes truly heart breaking though when we see them watching the missing footage, which includes Nazi soldiers disposing of bodies in the ghetto. This powerful imagery creates empathy even in our youngest and future generations that have been that are slowly becoming numb to such footage themselves. These feelings and thoughts also bleed in to the bonus features which do a tremendous job of supporting and expanding on the film.
In true Oscilloscope fashion, this DVD comes with great extra features. Instead of just adding to the film or going behind the scenes, the extra features on this disc seek to help one understand the subject matter as well as documentary and propaganda better. First up are two essays (one written and one video) by film scholars discussing the film and how it relates to what a documentary is/should be. Next is an interview with author and film researcher Adrian Wood, whose efforts helped discover the missing footage at the focal point of the film. Switching over to American film of the time, the DVD includes Death Mills (1945) a short film by Billy Wilder that gives ones of the first looks at concentration camps after being liberated. Last up, and this one requires using a computer, is a PDF study guide for teachers who might use the film as an aide and their students who seek to gain a deeper understanding of it.
Another spectacular entry into Oscilloscope's library, I give this film a four out of five stars. I don't think its right to say I really enjoy the film, but I do think it is well made and should be given a watch. As far as scoring the DVD I have to go with a four out of five again, as its bonus features and package design are welcome additions to my (or any) DVD collection. Below are a few links to help you get a hold of the film or learn more about it, and be sure to comment if you've seen it or do end up giving it a look.
-Enter to win a copy of A Film Unfinished from the folks at The Documentary Blog
-Add it to your Netflix queue
-Buy it from Oscilloscope Laboratories site