Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’re probably moderately aware that the 88th annual Academy Awards are on Sunday. The Jews will be making quite the appearance in the three-hour special: as nominees, presenters and plotlines.
“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” had nerds of all backgrounds hyperventilating with excitement last year. It also caught the attention of the Academy with five nominations. The self-proclaimed most nebbishy Jewish director J.J. Abrams directed the film. The cast includes the original cast from the first trilogy with Jewish actors Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill.
The Steven Spielberg-directed historical thriller “Bridge of Spies” is nominated for a slew of awards, including the highly coveted Best Picture. Ethan and Joel Coen wrote the screenplay for the film. The film is based on the true story of the arrest and trial of a U.S. spy pilot who was shot down by Soviet forces in the 60s.
Jewish actress Jennifer Jason Leigh is nominated for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for her portrayal of fugitive Daisy Domergue in Tarantino’s gruesome “The Hateful Eight.” Leigh plays the only female character in the main cast and is at once tough and villainous in the violent western mystery.
In the category of Best Documentary Short, “Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah” is nominated. The film explores the life of Claude Lanzmann, who created the nine-hour Holocaust documentary “Shoah.” The film shows the emotional challenges Lanzmann experienced while talking to Holocaust survivors about their time in the camps.
The film “Son of Saul” is nominated in the category of Best Foreign Language Film and shows a day and a half in the life of a Sonderkommando in Auschwitz. The Sonderkommando, a Nazi death camp prisoner assigned to dispose of gas chamber victims, recognizes his dead son in a corpse and vows to save him from the flames and give him a proper funeral. It won the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film.
The critically acclaimed, yet controversial, documentary “Amy”, which tells the story of the Jewish rock star Amy Winehouse, is nominated for Best Documentary Feature. “Amy” features interviews with family members and friends of Winehouse pieced together to explain her musical career as well as her struggle with drugs and alcohol. Winehouse’s father criticized the film for focusing too much on her addiction. Winehouse was Jewish, though she mostly identified with her religion culturally.
Jewish actors Sarah Silverman, Jason Segal, and Sasha Baron Cohen will be presenting awards during the evening and will probably get some laughs during their short time on stage. Cohen has a history of being ridiculous at awards shows. He was told explicitly by the Academy not to dress as his character in “The Dictator” during the 2012 Oscars, but did it anyway. He also “accidentally” spilled ashes on Ryan Seacrest before being escorted off the red carpet. It’s hard to imagine he won’t pull a stunt this year, which might make the notoriously long ceremony a little more interesting.
Adam Benzine, who directed the 40-minute documentary “Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah “was sitting with his aunt, uncle and producer in New York City watching the Oscar nomination live stream and waiting, and waiting some more, for the announcements.
“It kind of amplifies the dread,” Benzine said of the extravagant ceremony. “I wish they would read it off a paper or put it up online.”
It was worth the wait though when his documentary secured a nomination for Best Documentary Short. It will debut on HBO May 2. The film took four years to make and Benzine said it was an “uphill battle” due to financial struggles in the beginning.
The documentary chronicles the French filmmaker Claude Lanzmann and the twelve years it took him to make his 1985 Holocaust film “Shoah,” which has a running time of over nine hours. Benzine and his crew had exclusive interviews with Lanzmann, who discusses his challenges with traumatized survivors and gives access to unpublished footage.
Benzine, who is British, began his career as a journalist after receiving a master’s in magazine journalism from City University London in 2010. He went on to report for CMP Information, Music Week, C21 Media and later edit at Realscreen. This is his first directing project.
Despite “Spectres of the Shoah’s” acclaim — it had its world premiere in Toronto at the Hot Docs Film Festival to great reviews — Benzine said the nomination came as a surprise.
“You don’t know what’s going to resonate with particular academy voters,” he said. “It can be very hard for short films to stand out.”
Benzine, who of course, said he feels fantastic about the nomination and grateful to his crew, thanked Lanzmann several times in an interview with The Forward.
“I’m really happy for Claude Lanzmann,” he said. “I feel this is a nomination for him.”
Britta Lokting is the Forward’s culture fellow.
“The Last of the Unjust” is at once a documentary on the Holocaust, a character portrait, an inquiry into the nature of evil, a rumination on drawing moral distinctions, and a lesson on the pedagogical limits of film. This well over three-hour documentary, directed — or should we say “constructed”? — by Claude Lanzmann, whose nine-and-a-half-hour “Shoah” of 1985 set the bar impossibly high for anyone foolish enough to take on the same subject, is an adjunct to that earlier project. In “The Last of the Unjust,” Lanzmann takes a massive amount of interview footage with one Viennese rabbi, Benjamin Murmelstein, originally intended for “Shoah,” and uses it to home in on this particular Jew caught up in the ethical quagmire of the concentration camps.
In this case, the “camp” is the model village Theresienstadt, the former Czech garrison Terezin, “given to the Jews” by Hitler, but used for propaganda purposes such that the International Red Cross was taken in by the elaborate subterfuge. As a Nazi “public relations” film of the period shows, Theresienstadt was populated by happy, well fed children playing games, vigorous Jewish athletes engaged in a soccer match around a large inner courtyard for the pleasure of a packed “house,” and talented Jewish musicians performing symphonic music for the interned masses. Factory workers industriously produced goods for the self-sufficient village, and so purposeful and idealistic are the looks on all of these Jewish faces, one wonders if Leni Riefenstahl could have produced any more invigorating picture of Jews as their own master race. Indeed, in this piece of twisted propaganda, Theresienstadt is made to appear a homeland for which any Jew would seek to make aliyah.
But Lanzmann’s film does not provide a historical reconstruction of the town itself; instead, in a week’s worth of interviews conducted in 1975 with Murmelstein, the third Jewish elder to have administrated the town, and thus a man at the will and whim of the Nazis, Lanzmann forces us to measure the guilt or innocence of a Jewish “collaborator” — one of those Jewish elders whom Hannah Arendt fingered with contempt.
French documentary filmmaker and producer Claude Lanzmann will be honored at the 63rd Berlin International Film Festival, where he spoke about filming his famous “Shoah” documentary.
Lanzmann, 87, was expected to receive an Honorary Golden Bear for his lifetime achievement on Thursday evening.
“I was happy, I was moved and I was proud,” Lanzmann told some 200 people who gathered for a conversation between the filmmaker and German film historian Ulrich Gregor the day before the award ceremony.
Lanzmann became famous for his 10-hour, 13-minute documentary, “Shoah,” which was released in 1985 and took about 11 years to make. A digital restoration of the film was shown at the festival, which began Feb. 7 and runs through Feb. 17.
In a wide-ranging discussion, Lanzmann recalled how he had tricked old Nazis into giving him interviews. He said that a turning point in the filmmaking came when he set foot in the Polish village of Treblinka, where the death camp was located. Nearly 1 million Jews were gassed there, according to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
“I could not admit that a village called Treblinka with people living inside it could exist, Lanzmann recalled. “But it did exist.”
Claude Lanzmann, director of the film “Shoah,” has been busy of late. In February, his documentary, “Karski Report,” about how a Polish resistance fighter tried to warn American officials of the Holocaust as it was happening, was released on DVD. Also in February, Lanzmann, who will turn 87 on November 27, encountered some resistance on his own, when he gave a female security guard at the Tel Aviv airport what he called “one accolade around her shoulders – in English, a hug.” This resulted in Lanzmann’s being arrested and finger-printed for alleged sexual harassment.
Undeterred — in March, the[New Statesman described Lanzmann as a truculent rugbyman, a “French prop-forward of the old school - barrel-chested, florid-nosed and with no discernible neck” – Lanzmann’s hyper-energetic creative life continued with the release of the English-language version of his The Patagonian Hare: A Memoir, while Gallimard published a collection of Lanzmann’s articles from 1958 to 2007 “Tomb of the Heavenly Diver.” Its title refers to a 2,500-year-old painted tomb uncovered in 1968 outside Paestum, Greece. Showing an athletic diver throwing himself into a void, the image struck a chord with Lanzmann, who added the word “Heavenly” to what is generally known as “Tomb of the Diver.”
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