“Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah” is the second of the 10 Documentary Short Subjects being considered for Oscar® nominations by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences which I
have seen so far. Voters from the Academy’s Documentary Branch viewed this year’s 74 eligible entries and submitted their ballots to PricewaterhouseCoopers
“Shoah” is 30 years old (it was released in April
1985) and today not only is Anti-Semitism (in literally all its forms, not just anti-Jewish) still alive, but we are still living in the Auschwitz era.
Today’s anti-immigration sentiments go directly to the heart of the matter. How can society enlarge its capacity to accept all people within its embrace?
No matter which society we are discussing and no matter where that society is located, every nation and all peoples are interconnected and responsible for
the welfare of one another.
In 1973, French journalist Claude Lanzmann began work on a film about the Holocaust that would change his life forever. Twelve years later, having shot
more than 200 hours of footage, the maverick filmmaker finally completed “Shoah”, his nearly 10-hour-long masterpiece, which today ranks among the greatest
documentaries ever created. In “ Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah”, the
90-year-old iconoclast opens up for the first time about the trials and tribulations he faced while creating his magnum opus, and the weight it left him
carrying. In addition to his years spent tracking down Nazi officials and traumatized death camp survivors, the filmmaker also discusses his teenage years
fighting in the French Resistance, his relationship with existential philosophers Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre, and his hopes and expectations
for the future.
To hear Claude Lanzmann tell how he came to make “Shoah” with no more knowledge of what “shoah” was except that 6 million Jews perished and how he fixed
upon Auschwitz as the ground zero of the holocaust and realized no one who was there ever “knew” it because they all perished in it very quickly except for
some Sonderkommandos, and those he interviewed never spoke about themselves, but about only about others they saw there, how he doggedly tracked down a
barber living in the Bronx who was the barber for the women in the camp, how he got him to talking and finally to crying about having to cut the hair of
the wife and daughter of his neighbor; how his tears were the “stamp of truth” for him, how he almost lost his life interviewing Nazi witnesses (“Killers
don’t talk”) and how the Nazis wanted to perpetrate the perfect crime and destroyed not only the Jews but all traces of the crime itself. This is a
testament to a man who has literally made history in telling a story many would like to deny but cannot because of his efforts.
The British writer-director-producer of this film, Adam Benzine, is also extremely committed to telling the story of Lanzmann himself. Benzine was a
journalist for Toronto’s Real Screen magazine about documentaries. He is now at C 21. He has spent four years working on this unique, never-before-explored
world of Claude Lanzmann, how he made “Shoah” and how it affected him. Benzine poured through hundreds of hours of archival footage – a very unusual
venture for a short documentary.
A series of oral interviews with Benzine himself on the making of this documentary were made by Shael Stolberg and posted on FILMbutton during the film’s
premiere at Hot Docs. You can access them here.
HBO Documentary Films picked up the film in a bidding war at Hot Docs. It is has been discussed as the opportunity for the Academy itself to honor the 90
year old Claude Lanzmann, himself a member of the Academy and one who has been so influential on so many documentary filmmakers. It has also played at the
Sheffield Film Festival and the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.
Variety said it’s one of the top contenders as have a number of awards watchers who cite it as one of the top two contenders most likely not only to get
nominated but also to compete for the Oscar.
The film was supported by ZDF/ Arte who will broadcast it in France and Germany. HBO has U.S. and Cinephil is representing it for international sales.
This film is incredibly moving and I admire Mr. Benzine very much for his devotion to this project. The insight into how Lanzmann evolved from a journalist
to a world class historian elevates Lanzmann to the height of a hero and Mr. Benzine, as his messenger, also attains an historical significance. Both film
are testaments of a devotion worthy of enshrinement.
On a related topic, living survivors of Shoah in Hollywood were recently featured here: