Bianca Stigter, the director, has taken a forensic look at this very faded piece of home movie footage filmed in 1938 in the Jewish part of Nasielsk, 30 miles, north of Warsaw, Poland. The three-minute film was donated by Glenn Kurtz, the grandson of David Kurtz, to the US Holocaust Museum. David Kurtz shot the colour footage while on a family holiday. The film was quickly restored which managed to save it just in time.
The film depicts a crowd of people moving about with the synagogue in the background. We see the community smiling and sometimes looking at the camera. Helena Bonham Carter narrates, and we hear the voices of people who were there, or were acquainted with those who were, as well as historians filling us in on the background to the footage. At first viewing, we just notice the crowd, then, as the camera zooms in, we notice the different hats the boys are wearing and are told about what they depict. Information on individuals is provided as we see their faces in close up.
It was not long after this film was made, in December 1939, that the Jews of Nasielsk were rounded up by the Nazis, deported and murdered. Only one person in the film has been identified as surviving. Moszek Tuchendler is identified; as an old man you can still see the smiling chubby face of him when he was just a child.
The film, with repeated excerpts from the original clip, teaches us to look closely at what we see. It is a remarkable achievement. Executively produced by Stigter’s husband, Steve McQueen, it remains in one’s memory- particularly the faces of the smiling children, knowing their subsequent fate – and is one of the very best documentaries of the year.