A stretch is a quietly moving portrait of life before the Holocaust



A still from the credits of ‘Three Minutes: A Lengthening’ – Family Affair Films

Although photographs are among the most useful tools we have for reminding ourselves that the recent past has been populated by living, breathing people like us, they have their limitations. Moving pictures – the ones most of us now do so casually, with the miniature computers we carry around in our pockets – bring us even closer to understanding the lives of our ancestors. That’s why Bianca Stigter’s first documentary Three minutes: lengthening moves so quietly. The film focuses on a Jewish community in Nasielsk, Poland in 1938, captured in footage by David Kurtz, who had emigrated from Poland as a child and was visiting from his home in the United States at the time. The three-minute film shows the townspeople going about their daily lives, though many of them are fascinated by Kurtz’s 16mm camera. The children, in particular, gather around the amateur filmmaker, sometimes running to follow the gaze of his camera. The novelty of a motion picture camera is impossible to resist.

In the face of this vibrant recording of real life, what is almost impossible to comprehend is that in just a few years, almost everyone in this film will have been murdered in the Holocaust. Stigter took this footage – which was discovered by Kurtz’s grandson, Glenn Kurtz, in 2009 – and expanded it into a visual essay, narrated by Helena Bonham Carter, exploring the ways moving images can bring back the past into the present, connecting us with human beings whose time on Earth has been brutally cut short.

Read more: How we learn about the Holocaust when the last survivors are gone

Une image tirée d'images capturées par David Kurtz en 1938<span class=family business movies” data-src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/SRxi5BDSsypA8ZhgYfiYKg–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTcwNTtoPTUxOQ–/https://s.yimg.com/uu/api/res/1.2/ TkTiaQQ_s1Z55D0su4DEcw–~B/aD0xMDQ1O3c9MTQyMDthcHBpZD15dGFjaHlvbg–/https://media.zenfs.com/en/time_72/babc56ae15007badf9c70e0e263fb162″/>

The identity of many of these people is not known: they are seen standing at the entrance of a small grocery store, chatting as they pass the doors of the city’s synagogue, relaxing in one of the cafes in the town. Glenn Kurtz worked hard to locate the survivors, but found the task difficult – although a woman who saw the footage recognized the face of her grandfather, Maurice Chandler, who had survived using false papers to s escaping from Poland: In Kurtz’s footage, he is a boy with a face wearing the simple black cap worn by Yeshiva students. Stigter traveled to Detroit to interview Chandler, who was able to identify many of the people captured by Kurtz’s camera, giving details of their lives at the time: A young woman is seen standing behind the man she is engaged; another, a hunk with a movie star smile, wears a big, floppy cap that marks him, Chandler says, as the kind of boy Chandler’s strict and intensely religious parents wouldn’t want him to associate with. . They are all individuals, with their own dreams and restrictions, their own responsibilities and memories.

Les images capturent les habitants juifs de Nasielsk, en Pologne, avant que la plupart d'entre eux ne périssent dans l'Holocauste<span class=family business movies” data-src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/ru52vqTgPrskvoAv9htxbw–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTcwNTtoPTUxNg–/https://s.yimg.com/uu/api/res/1.2/ rIVpihm.I9hD9R0KTCdBbw–~B/aD0xMDM3O3c9MTQxODthcHBpZD15dGFjaHlvbg–/https://media.zenfs.com/en/time_72/f1244babd998760be1f8aa0dffe5a26b”/>

Read more reviews from Stephanie Zacharek

Stigter was inspired to make this film after reading Glenn Kurtz’s 2014 book, Three Minutes in Poland, and after viewing the David Kurtz images on the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum website. (Stigter is married to filmmaker and videographer Steve McQueen, and has served as a producer on several of his films. McQueen is one of the producers of Three minutes: a lengthening.) She begins by presenting Kurtz’s original three minutes of footage in full, but even those brief minutes are almost too much to absorb all at once. The sequel to his film allows us to focus on specific details – the lions of Judah that adorn the doors of the city’s synagogue, the sign above the grocery store, whose almost illegible letters gradually become a fortunately solved mystery – which enhance our understanding of life in this small town. The film also details, in voiceover, the horrors that befell the city’s Jewish citizens about a year after this footage was captured.

But if Stigter’s film is sometimes dark, it is more often sadly poetic. Much of Kurtz’s images are in color, and while they’ve faded over time, they’re still remarkably vivid. Does it take us back in time or does it momentarily transport the people of Nasielsk to our world? It’s hard to say, but either way, Stigter’s film opens a portal between two eras. The characters in this movie, most of them long dead, aren’t ghosts, they’re neighbors. And if they only walk among us for a few minutes, their presence is still indelible.


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