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Powerful Documentary Caps Off Successful Film Series

Educator from Holocaust Museum in Nassau spoke at screening of film that turned Nazi propaganda footage of the Warsaw ghetto into a powerful film about one of the darkest moments in modern history.

On April 11, the Port Jefferson Documentary Film Series closed out its spring season with A Film Unfinished, a movie that examines the Holocaust through propaganda footage filmed by the Nazis.

At the screening, Fred Gross, an educator and docent at the Holocaust Museum and Tolerance Center in Glen Cove was at to answer questions and discuss the documentary. During his talk he described the history of the reels and touched upon some historical and social aspects of the Holocaust.

"The film was incredibly moving, especially for many of the people in the audience whose parents were Holocaust survivors," said documentary film series committee member Lyn Boland. "There were so many scenes of everyday life in the ghetto that their parent's ordeal became even more vivid."

A Film Unfinished exposes the horror behind Nazi propaganda with exclusive, never before seen raw footage of the Warsaw ghetto. Shot in May of 1942 and originally labeled simply as “Das Ghetto”, the footage became a resource for historians. Several years later, the discovery of a missing reel shed new light on the truth and motivation behind the film.

Lily Zajc who is a volunteer publicist for the documentary film series said that the audience members seemed very moved by the documentary.

"It’s the last film and the series ended on a very powerful note," said Zajc. "It was grimly fascinating and unsettling."

The film had a powerful effect on Zajc whose 91-year old mother lived in Warsaw, Poland when the Nazis invaded. After the uprising of Jews against their oppressors in the ghetto, the elder Zajc was transported to various concentration camps, including Auschwitz.

After the liberation of the camps Zajc’s mother went to Sweden and then to New York City by boat to Ellis Island in 1950. Zajc herself was born in the Lower East Side of Manhattan.

"We lived in the tenements until my folks moved to Brooklyn," Zajc said.

Zajc’s mother didn’t come out to see the film but she thought there may have been people her mother might recognize from the many close-ups of Warsaw residents in the film.

The film was produced by the Nazis as propaganda to show supposed Warsaw Ghetto life, but many of the scenes were staged as additional reels were discovered.

"The film was edited by director, Yael Hersonski, to show Warsaw Ghetto survivors viewing the propaganda reels and commenting on their experiences," said Zajc. "It also had an interview with one of the original cameramen who filmed there."

Robert Kelly who is a frequent attendee and volunteer photographer of the series said that the film, speaker and audience were made for a great mix to end off the string of powerful films.

"I couldn't think of a better way to top off the season," he said.

According to Boland, the series continues to grow year after year.

"We started with an audience of about 12 people six years ago and this season our audiences averaged 100 people per night," she said. "We had a 33 percent audience increase over the same period last year."

The committee will immediately start preparing for the Fall series that launches on September 12.

"At the Tribeca film festival, which starts in about 10 days, I will see about 27 documentaries and all of the members of the film board will also be there, scouting films and talking to the directors after the screenings," said Boland. "We try to guess which are the winners and approach those directors personally about bringing their films to our series."

After the festival, the committee members try to contact any of the directors of “the best of the fest” that they didn’t meet face-to-face about screening their films.

"Everyone on the film board is a volunteer and most have been doing this for six years in addition to their regular job and family obligations," Boland said. "I cannot say enough about how hard they work all year round and how professionally they do their ‘second’ job with the series."

She also said that volunteer photographer Robert Kelly’s record of the series is "invaluable."

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