Uncomfortable truths

A range of hard-hitting documentaries from Israel and abroad steal the spotlight at the continuing Jerusalem Film Festival.

The Last Survivor 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
The Last Survivor 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
So far, the buzz this year at the 27th Jerusalem Film Festival, which ends on Saturday night, is about the documentaries. There are so many excellent ones, both from Israel and abroad, on a wide variety of topics.
People have been talking about Budrus, a movie competing in the “In the Spirit of Freedom” competition for films about human rights issues.
Directed by Julia Bacha, who codirected the equally fine film, Encounter Point (2006), it looks at a West Bank village where the residents use peaceful means to protest Israel’s construction of the security fence.
We’ve all seen demonstrations that turn into riots and end with casualties, but it’s rare to see non-violent protests.
The film, which features interviews with villagers behind the protests and also with Israeli soldiers given the unenviable task of trying to disburse the demonstrators. Although it shows Israeli troops using force to break up the demonstrations, it also shows footage of bus bombings and makes very clear that the purpose of the fence is to protect civilians.
But the message of the film, which sets it apart from many movies that vilify the IDF, is that the villagers’ months of protests paid off, and they were successful in convincing the Israeli government to change the route of the fence, so it did not cut them off from most of their land. As one interviewee says, “Nothing scares the IDF more than non-violent protests,” and, apparently, nothing is more persuasive. To learn more about the film, go to the Website at http://www.justvision.org/en/budrus
No filmmaker at the festival has worked harder to bring her film to the light of day than Sandra Schulberg, who is here with the documentary, Nuremberg: Its Lesson for Today [The Schulberg/Waletzky Restoration], which she brought back to life.
Schulberg’s father, director Stuart Schulberg, worked for the OSS Field Photo/War Crimes Unit, amassing photographic and filmic evidence of Nazi crimes after World War II in preparation for the Nuremberg trial.
For the US War Department, he then made the official documentary about the Nuremberg trial of the top Nazi war criminals. This documentary was shown widely in Germany in 1948 and 1949, since its initial purpose was to explain to the German people why allied prosecution teams were putting their leaders on trial. And then the film virtually disappeared.
“The Defense Department, which up until then had been called the Department of War, decided not to release it in the US,” says Schulberg.
She cites several reasons for this odd decision, the first of which was that it was considered “too complex – now the Russians were our enemies, not the Germans.” A second factor was that some in the Defense Department were queasy about putting military officers on trial.
Others worried that the atrocity footage would be too shocking for ordinary audiences, while there were other, political concerns that showing the film would erode support for the Marshall Plan, which included rebuilding Germany and jumpstarting its economy.
Whatever the reasons, the English language version was never properly completed and “the film languished for decades.” Schulberg knew about it because of her father, but he died young and they never spoke about it. But when she saw the German version of it in 2004, she realized, “This is one of the greatest anti-war films of all time, as well as having great historical importance." For more than five years, she struggled to restore the picture negative and reconstruct the soundtrack for the documentary.
The finished film had its world premiere at The Hague in November, then was shown at the Berlin Film Festival. The next stop for the movie after Jerusalem is the New York Film Festival this fall and then a theatrical release. For more information on the film, visit the Website at www.nurembergfilm.org
Another documentary that has received enthusiastic responses is The Last Survivor, which was directed by Michael Pertnoy, a guest at the festival, and Michael Kleiman.
This complex film weaves together the stories of several survivors and refugees. These include Hedi Fried, a psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, who organizes support groups for survivors of genocide and their children; Jacqueline Murekatete, a survivor of the massacres in Rwanda; Justin Semahoro Kimenyerwa, who saw many members of his tribe perish in killings in the Congo; and Adam Bashar, who fled Darfur and now works for the Tel Aviv municipality. The film’s Website is www.thelastsurvivor.com