University remembers Holocaust through documentary screening
On Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Brandeis community could view all 9.5 hours of "Shoah."
The Center for German and European Studies partnered with Germany’s cultural institute, the Goethe Institut, to take part in a worldwide screening of Claude Lanzmann’s 9.5 hour documentary, Shoah (1985), on Monday. The screening, held on Holocaust Remembrance Day, fell on the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and the 35th anniversary of the documentary’s debut, according to the Institut.
Executive Director of the National Center for Jewish Film and Associate Professor of Jewish Film at Brandeis, Sharon Pucker Rivo, explained in a Jan. 24 email to the Justice that she and director of the CGES department, Prof. Sabine von Mering (GRALL, ENVS), offered to host the screening at Brandeis after they found out that the site of the Boston Goethe Institut was undergoing renovation.
“We think that it is very important for Brandeis University to be a part of this important worldwide event,” Rivo said, which is why they provided easy access to the film to members of the community.
After von Mering approached the English Department, the department happily co-sponsored the event, explained Chair of the English Department Prof. Caren Irr (ENG), in a Jan. 23 interview with the Justice. Irr elaborated on the cultural significance of the documentary, saying, “Shoah is a monumental film of vital importance to cinematic and social history. Any student whose life has been affected by violence or who wants to feel the emotional impact of cinematic art should attend.”
Given the history of the University’s founding “in the wake of the Holocaust,” Professor Thomas Doherty (AMST) said in a Jan. 23 email interview with the Justice that it is appropriate for the Brandeis campus to be involved with the screening of "Shoah." He added that "Shoah" is “one of the most important films ever made on the Holocaust, period, full stop.”
Doherty said he planned on saying a few words at the screening regarding the rise of a “full-blown motion picture genre: the Holocaust film.”
In her email, Rivo described her first time watching the film 35 years ago. She said she had started the film with no intentions of staying for all 9.5 hours, but ended up watching the entire screening. “I became mesmerized with the power of the long, slow penetrating interviews … the day was an experiential happening —‒ not just a long movie,” she said.
"Shoah" has no historical footage; rather, it is a compilation of interviews with survivors, perpetrators and bystanders in an “attempt to understand the horrific deeds … by the Germans,” Rivo explained in her email.
Although Doherty said that he was not sure if students would be able to watch the film in its entirety, he stressed the value of staying to watch for at least a few hours. “In the age of Netflix, we forget how powerful a theatrical screening can be — of watching a film like this together, in a community,” he explained.
To make the film more accessible for its viewers, coordinators posted a schedule with three breaks throughout the screening to allow participants to get refreshments, stretch their legs and use the restroom. The schedule also suggested that viewers who wished to attend the screening arrive during intermission times to limit distractions.
The screening of "Shoah" is an important way of starting a difficult conversation surrounding the Holocaust, especially for students who “turn to film in order to process certain emotions or events,” said Events and Membership Coordinator of Brandeis Television Aviva Davis ’21 in a Jan. 24 interview. Davis added that it would be difficult for students to make time to watch the entire film, but proposed that students watch a portion of it at the screening, and continue later, in their free time. “Shoah is a long film about a heavy topic,” she said. “[It] should be enjoyed at the speed most comfortable to its viewers.”
With U.S. locations in Boston, New York, Chicago, Washington, San Francisco and Los Angeles, the Goethe Institut encourages dialogue between Germany and the United States about culture, language and education, their website explains.
In addition to screenings held in the United States, Goethe Institutes in Brazil, Chile, Germany, England, Italy, Canada, Nigeria, Rwanda, Russia, Spain, Sri Lanka, Turkey, and Uruguay also participated in the screening, according to Worldwide Reading.
United States branches of the Goethe Institute organized screenings of the documentary in response to the Berlin International Literature Festival’s call to “cinemas, individuals, schools, universities, the media, and cultural institutions” to join the worldwide screening of Shoah, per the Goethe Institut website.
Awarded in 2013 with a Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival, Lanzmann’s documentary is regarded as “one of the best films made about the Holocaust,” as stated in The Hollywood Reporter. In a 1985 review of the documentary, film critic Roger Ebert described Shoah as a “550-minute howl of pain and anger in the face of genocide. It is one of the noblest films ever made.”
Irr explained that the length of the film is part of what makes it so unforgettable. “One does not simply watch Shoah,” Irr said. “One survives it — and in so doing one feels in one's own body what survival entails."
Lanzmann came to Brandeis in 2012 when he was interviewed by Oscar-winning documentarian Errol Morris about his memoir, "The Patagonian Hare," according to the Blog for the Division of Social Sciences at Brandeis.
In an email to Brandeis students on Jan. 21, CGES added that a “generous grant” from the German Academic Exchange Service made the department’s programming possible. The DAAD website says that their organization encourages interaction between German and United States students, researchers and universities through grants and scholarships.
As well as being hosted by the CGES department, the screening was co-sponsored by several departments, including History; English; Near-Eastern and Judaic Studies; Theater Arts; and German, Russian, and Asian Languages and Literature, according to an event flyer.