Friday, September 28, 2012

David Fisher's SIX MILLION AND ONE: Another Holocaust doc? Yes, but this one's a keeper; a short Q&A with the filmmaker

Doesn't it sometimes seem, at this point in film history, as though we've actually seen six million Holocaust documentaries commemo-rating the six million Jews lost to Europe-wide Antisemitism during World War II? Well, here comes SIX MILLION AND ONE, the new documentary by Israeli filmmaker David Fisher (shown at left), and
it's something quite different. Oh, it covers in passing some of the atrocities, all right -- there are a couple of anecdotes/incidents here that struck me as new and awful -- yet the film is a combination of family and history done in a manner that can only be called rare. Despite its sometimes grim subject matter, the film will make you laugh out loud as it introduces you to some people with whom you'll be pleased to have spent some quality time.

For all the films we've seen that cover the holocaust, few have gone into great detail on how this has affected the generations that came after. When we seen this, it is more often in a narrative film (the recent Matchmaker or Sarah's Key) than in a documentary. Six Million and One details the journey taken by the Fisher siblings, three brothers and a sister (above), sometime after the death of their father, Joseph Fisher, who was himself a concentration camp survivor (and from what we learn here, a rather remarkable one).

David Fisher, it turns out, is the only one of his sibling to have actually read his dad's memoir. Why the other three have not (and will not) is discussed briefly, but we'd have to really know and understand these people to fully appreciate the reasons behind their refusal. The refusal in itself, however, brings to the fore that children-of-the-Holocaust theme. The more these clearly troubled adults cling to the old "Let's just move on" scenario, the more clear it becomes that, on some level, they can't.

This quartet argues, banters, laughs and (eventually) cries, and we're pretty much with them at every step and its accompanying emotion. Once David convinces the other three to travel with him back to Austria and Germany, where Dad was imprisoned, they go, grudgingly, then argue and joke in order to keep any contact with those deeper feelings at bay.

Along the way, David speaks with locals about then and now, and we learn that the old granite quarry, where the slave laborers worked and died, is soon going to be turned into a housing project. Generally the documentary is pretty standard, talking-head stuff (plus that family, of course) but occasionally Fisher does a nice turn with his own camera and history's archives, melding both into a single frame, as above.

It is in the tunnel (pictured above) where Dad worked -- and by all rights, should have died, notes one local historian, because so very few survived this particular "workplace" -- that the family has its most profound moments. And yet, for me, perhaps as an American, the most moving section involves the very old American servicemen who were among those who liberated the death camps. Hearing these guys speak, even now, some 65 years later, about the shock they endured back then is terrible. They are still going through post traumatic stress from the event. Notes one, shown below: "I've never seen a horror movie that came close to what we've seen or heard or smelled."

Six Million and One, from Nancy Fishman Film Releasing and running 97 minutes, is an altogether different, stranger, deeper, second-generation take on the Holocaust. Funny, angry and haunting, it's a film you're unlikely, nor will you want, to forget. After playing the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival last July, it opens today, Friday, September 28, here in New York City at the Lincoln Plaza Cinema.


Over a quick lunch this past week in Greenwich Village, I sat down with David Fisher to talk about his documentary, family and the Holocaust. With the New York Film Festival currently in full swing, I don't have the time now to transcribe and post that interview, but I will just as soon as possible.  More important, right now, is getting the post up about the film (above), so that you can see it during its one-week run.

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