“Shoah is a film about the destruction of European Jews during the Second World War. My ambition was to create a cinematic work that would bring this main event in recent history back to life in all its gravity. The work should itself be appropriate to the event. Instead of restricting myself to certain chapters or episodes of extermination of the Jews in Europe, I made up my mind to record the destruction in whole, in its gigantic dimensions and with all its traces, whose consequences we live with today. It is a monumental film, both for its length and the number of individuals and the diversity of the topics it covers.” —Claude Lanzmann
In 1985, French journalist and filmmaker Claude Lanzmann (b. 1925) premiered the nine-hour documentary that would prove a radical intervention into the question of how to represent the unrepresentable and whose title would introduce a new term into English for the Nazi extermination of European Jews: “shoah,” the Hebrew word for “catastrophe” or “calamity.” The preferred word in English, “holocaust,” refers originally to a sacrificial offering to a god, and it is precisely any transcendental understanding of the Nazi program to exterminate Europe’s Jews that Lanzmann and his film reject. Rather, Shoah seeks to document, at exhausting length, this program as a set of people, places and events, rather than as an ideology or a metaphor.
It is no exaggeration to say that Shoah marks a turning point both in the discussion of the Nazi’s attempt to exterminate Europe’s Jews and in the history of non-fiction filmmaking. The film’s monumental length matches its intellectual ambitions as well as the scope of the subject matter. Lanzmann deliberately turns away from spectacle towards a strategy that relies instead of presenting the remnants and echoes of past events, events whose victims were meant to disappear without a trace. He began three years of research for the film in 1973, followed by ten periods of shooting spread over six years.
Shoah eschews archival footage in favor of footage shot “in the present” at the sites under discussion. It is in large part a film about memory and about testimony. Much of the film consists of lengthy interviews with a variety of subjects: survivors, perpetrators, collaborators and witnesses.
This program is presented in conjunction with The Boston Jewish Film Festival. Members of the Festival will receive a $2 discount off the price of admission.
Special thanks: Sara Rubin—Boston Jewish Film Festival; Susan Suleiman—the Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies, Harvard; Ryan Werner, Jonathan Hertzberg—IFC Films.
Shoah - Part One
Friday January 21 at 6pm (featuring introduction by Susan Suleiman)
Saturday January 22 at 12pm
Sunday January 23 at 12pm
Shoah - Part Two
Saturday January 22 at 6pm
Sunday January 23 at 6pm
Monday January 24 at 6pm
Directed by Claude Lanzmann
France France 1985, 35mm, color and b/w, Part I: 273 min, Part II: 292 min. French, Hebrew, German and Polish with English subtitles