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