2012 poll rank: #29 (tied with Stalker)
"There is no last chapter in history." - Christopher Browning, Holocaust historian.
Documentaries occupy a tense space between objective fact and subjective interpretation. This isn't a new idea, but it's a very important one to remember when approaching a film like Shoah. Whether a documentary is a political crusade meant to influence the minds of the audience (such as Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11), or examine a period of history or a story that the filmmaker finds interesting or important (How to Survive a Plague or Stories We Tell), or even introduce the audience to a person or group that isn't well-known (Searching for Sugar Man), there is an inherent point-of-view in the film. There's a reason that a documentary is made, and the filmmaker creates their film with the intention of presenting it a particular way. Even nature documentaries, such as March of the Penguins, are on some level subjective, because the filmmakers are assembling the "facts" to fit the point they want to make.
Henryk Gawkowski, one of the train conductors for the Treblinka camp
Despite a mammoth running time of nine-and-a-half hours, Shoah, Claude Lanzmann's Holocaust documentary, isn't capable of telling the whole story of one of the most well-known genocides in human history. The film is comprised completely of interviews with survivors, perpetrators, and bystanders of three concentration camps - Chelmno, Treblinka, and Auschwitz-Birkenau - as well as the Warsaw Ghetto, where a major Jewish uprising occurred in 1943. Because of the way Polish citizens are depicted in the film and the fact that all of the film's focal locations are in Poland, Lanzmann has been criticized for taking an anti-Polish stance, with many arguing that he ignores both the Poles who helped Jewish prisoners escape and the atrocities suffered by Poles at the hands of the Nazis.
To be sure, this is a problematic issue with the film. But more than that, Shoah presents a testimonial argument in a much-larger debate in Holocaust history: was the "Final Solution" part of Adolf Hitler's "master plan," or was it an escalation of anti-Semitic policies within the German bureaucracy?
More after the jump.