October 23, 2018

Beyond ‘Schindler’sList’

“He was a satyr, a black marketeer, a drunk and a savior.”

The pithy description by author Thomas Keneallyrefers, of course, to Oskar Schindler, the flawed but ultimatelyheroic German businessman who saved his 1,200 Jewish employees duringthe Holocaust.

The man and the myth will be re-examined in “OskarSchindler: The Man Behind the List,” which airs on the A&Enetwork’s “Biography” series on Friday, May 8, at 5 p.m. and 9p.m.

Although the hour-long documentary does not changeour basic perception of the man portrayed indelibly in StevenSpielberg’s “Schindler’s List,” the new production certainly broadensour perspective.

While the movie focused on the six years of WorldWar II, the documentary serves as both prologue and epilogue bytracing Schindler’s life from his birth in 1908 to his death in1974.

For hisportrait of the young Schindler, Martin Kent, left, the documentary’sproducer, director and writer, drew on the family albums andrecollections of a hitherto undiscovered Schindler niece, stillliving in Germany.

The postwar Schindler evolves partly through arare interview on German television, but mainly through the words ofthe “Schindler Jews” he saved and who stayed with him and by himthrough his last decades as an unsuccessful entrepreneur.

Among the eloquent survivors are two Angelenos,Leon Leyson and Leopold (Poldek) Page, whose close friendship withSchindler will be the subject of a future documentary by Kent.

Although the documentary dwells on Schindler’ssexual conquests perhaps more than necessary, it is dotted withstriking black-and-white photos and intriguing bits ofinformation.

There is an unforgettable photo of Amon Goeth, thesadistic SS labor camp commandant, as a shirtless fat slob — in noway resembling the trim figure of actor Ralph Fiennes in theSpielberg movie.

Long before Spielberg, we learn, MGM optioned therights for a feature film in 1963, after an article on Schindler byHerb Brin appeared in his Heritage weekly. Fortunately, inretrospect, MGM dropped the project after paying $50,000 toSchindler, who promptly squandered the money on fancy hotels andwomen.

Filmmaker Kent is the son of Holocaust survivorsfrom Poland, and like many of similar family background, he distancedhimself from his parents’ tragic experiences for many years.

“I thought I could deal with the Schindler projecton an impersonal level, but once I got into it, it affected me moreand more,” Kent said in an interview.

So strong was the impact that Kent and hispartner, Pavel Vogler, recently formed Kunstler Films (derived fromthe family name of Kent’s parents). The new company will devoteitself to producing “documentaries on Jewish topics, but withuniversal appeal,” said Kent. He also hopes to form a “strategicalliance” with a large Jewish organization or institution.

The first project of Kunstler Films is “The LastJews of Poland,” which will depict the struggles of the country’s35,000 remaining Jews to survive and retain their identity.

Kent, a resident of Calabasas, is a prolificdocumentary maker, whose first production, in 1983 on “Carl Reiner:The Light Stuff,” won an Emmy. “I was raised in the cable industry,where the motto was ‘keep the costs down, but make it look good,'” hesaid.

Two other Kent documentaries, one on famouskidnapping cases, the other the quest for a sunken Spanish galleon,will air on A&E during the last two weeks in May.