Claude Lanzmann honored at Haifa Film Festival

The legendary documentary filmmaker talks about his films, his connection to Haifa and anti-Semitism in France

September 29, 2015 20:08
3 minute read.
DOCUMENTARY FIMLMAKER Claude Lanzmann poses with his Lifetime Achievement Award at the 31st Haifa In

DOCUMENTARY FIMLMAKER Claude Lanzmann poses with his Lifetime Achievement Award at the 31st Haifa International Film Festival’s opening ceremony. (photo credit: GALIT ROSEN)

Legendary French documentary director Claude Lanzmann, best known for his Holocaust documentary, Shoah – considered by many to be the greatest Holocaust film of all time and one of the best documentaries ever made – has been given many honors, but was visibly moved when he received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 31st Haifa International Film Festival’s opening ceremony on Saturday night.

The Haifa International Film Festival will run until October 5 at the Haifa Cinematheque and other theaters around the city.

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“Yes, I have a connection to Haifa,” said Lanzmann in an interview the following day. “When I first came to Israel, in 1952, I came by boat, on the Zim ship Kedma.”

Just a few years before, many Jewish refugees from Europe to then-Palestine had arrived aboard the Kedma.

“There was a storm on the way, a terrible storm that lasted for days and all the passengers were sick, everyone but me and Captain Eliezer Chodorov, a Russian Jew. We had lunch and dinner every day in the first-class dining room, which was empty, and we ate and drank very good wine,” recalled Lanzmann.

The director, who received a standing ovation from the opening-night audience the moment his name was mentioned, continued, “I spent about eight days in Haifa, and then I went to Tel Aviv with some wonderful people I met on the ship.”

It’s rare that Lanzmann gets an opportunity to reminisce about the good times, since his movies deal with some of the darkest moments in human history. His award in Haifa also commemorates his 90th birthday, as well as marking 70 years since the end of World War II and the liberation of the concentration camps. A new digitally restored print of Shoah will be screened at the festival, along with several of Lanzmann’s other films, among them Sobibor, Le Rapport Karski and The Last of the Unjust.

“I think the three big cities of Israel are all very different – Haifa, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. The harbor in Haifa is very vivid in my mind. When I was shooting my film, Tsahal” – his five-hour documentary on the Israeli army, released in 1994 – “I patrolled with the navy on the Lebanese border, I rode on several ships and even a submarine, and I got to know Haifa.”

Thinking back again to his first visit to the city, he said, “I took the same ship, the Kedma, when I returned to France.”

Reminded that he met prime minister David Ben-Gurion, who asked him why he did not want to stay in Israel, he said, “Before I went to Israel, I had begun my love story with Simone de Beauvoir.”

Those who know of Lanzmann primarily as the director of Shoah may not realize that in the decades before he made the epic documentary, he was a key member of the circle of post-WWII Parisian intellectuals headed by de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre, and was one of the chief editors of Les Temps Modernes, a journal founded by de Beauvoir and Sartre.

“The idea of trying to learn Hebrew was too hard for me. I am very much caught and tied by the French language. And I don’t know anything about the Jewish religion. I am hardly a Jew.”

So he said, but he became passionate discussing the current resurgence of anti-Semitism in France.

“The attack on Charlie Hebdo [last January] had to do with the cartoons, but the attack on [the supermarket] Hyper Cacher was truly anti-Semitic.”

However, he doesn’t think the solution to this problem is for French Jews to move to Israel: “That would be like handing Hitler a victory.” In his view, people should fight anti-Semitism all over the world.

Happy about a master class he gave here for enthusiastic Israeli film students, he said, “My films are so long, they are like 20 normal films. I think they can help fight anti-Semitism, and because they are shown here so much, a part of me will always be in Israel.”

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