Now that my four year run on the Notables Committee is at an end, I decided to put together a list of my favorite documentaries from those years. This is a totally subjective and personal list. Some of these didn’t even make the list the committee put together, but are films that I found particularly interesting or inspiring.
The year listed is the year the films were nominated, not the release year.
Last weekend, I met with the Notable Videos for Adults Committee at the American Library Association’s Midwinter Conference in Dallas. Unlike last year when I was still viewing movies while at the conference, I finished my screenings about a week early, which was quite a feat considering we had 62 nominations, the most of any of the four years I’ve served on the committee.
As usual, I’m pretty happy with the list. There are always one or two films that don’t make the cut that I wish had, but that’s the nature of such lists.
A Film Unfinished is an absolutely fascinating documentary about the discovery of an incomplete film created by the Nazis that documented life in the Warsaw Ghetto. At first, this footage seemed as if it could have been a historically valuable primary resource until a second reel was discovered that showed alternate takes of many of the scenes proving that many of the details were staged. In addition, the journal of the Jewish manager for the ghetto was discovered giving even more details about the process. A transcript of the testimony of one of the camerman is dramatized to provide even greater insights. However, the purpose of the original footage remains a mystery.
Many of the staged scenes creates a portrait of life that hid much of the deprevation of the ghetto. The Jewish captives were shown to be better dressed, better fed, and more content than was the case. They were also forced to appear uncaring and cold toward the poorer population. These staged scenes could have served as propeganda to make the camps seem not as cruel to the outside world and to cast the character of the Jews in an unflattering light. However, much of the raw footage did indeed capture the true deprevation of the ghetto raising the question as to why the Nazis would want the true nature of the camps to be exposed.
A Film Unfinsihed presents much of the raw footage and the alternate takes as it creates a mesmerizing narrative about the discovery of the films and of the process of the filmmaking.