Andre Singer's documentary acts as a sobering reminder of the horrors of the Holocaust
That the Holocaust is so frequently invoked in justification of a raft of contradictory positions (not least, as ‘Godwin's Law’ reminds us, as a self-righteous point-scorer in online debates) is all the more reason for frequent reminders of its realities; extremes of cruelty and suffering for which little words like 'harrowing' and 'horrific' barely suffice, and for the full expression of which even the internet lacks satisfactory space.
Andre Singer's film details the shooting and subsequent shelving of the 1940s British propaganda film 'German Concentration Camps Factual Survey', which recorded the liberation of the camps and the evidence found within. It includes archive footage of the most unsparing and sobering kind, as well as insights from those who shot it into the effects of witnessing such horror, and the memories of survivors.
This stuff is heart-stopping, and absolutely compelling, and to review it as a film is obviously meaningless and borderline distasteful. Consider the star rating, then, as a response to two specifics.
Firstly, the film's discussion of the political situation that blocked the completion and release of the original documentary (basically, a broad post-war shift away from a punitive approach to Germany to a conciliatory one) is on the sparing side. A film that could have broken new ground by analysing the treatment of images from the camps instead becomes another film about the camps: inevitably and immeasurably affecting, but conventional in terms of what it says.
Secondly, while this shouldn’t stop anyone from seeing it, some might identify something a little distasteful about the emphasis on famous directors in its story, as if the concentration camps should be regarded as more significant in light of Alfred Hitchcock and Billy Wilder having helped out on a film about them.
Selected release from Fri 19 Sep.