In the disturbing opening sequence of “The Long Way Home,” asurvivor recalls the horrified stares of her American liberators atBergen-Belsen. “I saw one…double over and throw up and then anotherand another,” she says. “I saw they were looking at [me] in disgust,and a deep despair came over me.”
The memoir sets the tone for the documentary, which traces theJews’ long, hard journey from the concentration camps to the State ofIsrael, between 1945 and 1948. It’s the third documentary in theSimon Wiesenthal Center’s acclaimed Holocaust trilogy, sayswriter-director Mark Jonathan Harris, who’ll discuss the film afterthe Jan. 25 screening at Mishkon Tephilo in Venice. The documentaryalso debunks a myth: that the camps were opened and the survivorsjoyfully freed to pursue life as usual.
Survivors were murdered in a village near Vilna; notes in theirpockets read, “This will be the fate of all surviving Jews.” Refugeeswere interned in filthy DP camps while German collaborators wereallowed to go home. Britain, succumbing to Arab oil influence,allowed only 1,500 Jews to disembark in Palestine each month. Thesaying was apt: “Better to be a conquered German than a liberatedJew.”
During a recent interview, the Academy Award-winning Harrisadmitted that he was dubious when he was first approached to do thefilm by the Wiesenthal Center’s Moriah Films in September 1996. TheUSC film professor had taught about all the great Holocaustdocumentaries, and he didn’t think he had anything to add after AlainResnais’ “Night and Fog” and Claude Lanzmann’s “Shoah.”
Yet he soon came to realize that the aftermath of the Holocaustwas a subject that had scarcely been explored on-screen. There didn’tseem to be much around, save occasional “Hollywood simplifiedversions” such as the 1960 epic, “Exodus.” In his research, he readmore than 50 books and perused rare archival footage in London andWashington.
Harris went on to earn accolades at Sundance but, alas, no awards.The jury reportedly thought that the documentary “didn’t give equaltime to the Palestinians,” he says. “These days, everyone tries to beso politically correct. But we weren’t making a film about the[Arab-Jewish conflict]; we were making a film about the survivorsstruggling to rebuild their lives.”
Harris’ next film, also for Moriah, will undoubtedly ruffle a fewmore feathers. The as yet unnamed documentary is a $1.5 millionproject commemorating Israel’s 50th anniversary, to debut thisspring. It’s the official film honoring the anniversary, and Harrisis co-writing it with Stuart Schoffman of The Jerusalem Report.
The film, which Harris is now editing six days a week, tells thestory of the Jewish state through the eyes of some 18 diverseIsraelis, including two Israeli Arabs. None of the interviewees arepoliticians or Palestinians. But the film won’t be a puff piece,Harris insists. “Everyone is critical of Israel,” he says.
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