Article by Barbara Keer
Interview by Marcia Ferstenfeld
Three Minutes-A Lengthening will be shown in theaters beginning August 19th. This remarkable work was written and Directed by Bianca Stigter, narrated by Helena Bonham Carter, produced by Floor Onrust and co-produced by Steve Mcqueen. In 69 minutes, the movie, a very different kind of documentary, brings to the viewer a story that is compelling and mesmerizing, a bit of a mystery, a painful history, beauty, and ultimately a deep sadness and loss. It is a unique work and especially important for our time, as well as an ode to the power of film.
It is said that as long as “we are watching history, history is not over”. The three minutes of
footage, shot by David Kurtz in 1938, are the only moving images remaining of the Jewish inhabitants of Nasielsk, Poland before the Holocaust. Three Minutes-A Lengthening is the result of four years of work by Glenn Kurtz, David’s grandson, attempting to learn more about the people in the film.
On initially viewing the film, which opens with three minutes of silent movement, my thoughts were, “Who is filming this? Why?” As this bit of film is repeated over and over, almost hypnotically, questions are answered and the mystery of who the people are is addressed. Click for(History before the film)
The pieces that contributed to the making of this film could almost be material for yet another film. In his book, “THREE MINUTES IN POLAND: DISCOVERING A LOST WORLD IN A 1938 FAMILY FILM” Glenn Kurtz tells of finding canisters containing these films in the closet of his parents’ Florida home. The film was in terrible condition, nearly melted. Someone had begun to transfer the film and Glenn was able to determine that it could be of historic value. It was the US Holocaust Museum that “fixed” the film and placed it on their Facebook page where it was seen by director Bianca Stigter.
Watching Three Minutes – A Lengthening, and hearing the conversation between Stigter and Kurtz telling the story, is enhanced by narrator, Helena Bonham Carter, and the music of Wilko Sterke – Composer. The editing, pacing, and of course, the filming, resulted in a remarkable work. Using only three minutes repeatedly, resulted in my being at once immersed in the action, transfixed and deeply moved. Nasielsk, Poland had a population of three thousand Jews in 1938 and under 100 survived WWII.
Director Bianca Stigter explains that “Three Minutes – A Lengthening is an experiment that turns scarcity into a quality. Living in a time marked by an abundance of images that are never viewed twice, we do the opposite here: circle the same moments again and again, convinced that they will give us a different meaning each time. The film starts and ends with the same unedited found footage, but the second time you will look at it quite differently.
Three Minutes – A Lengthening investigates the nature of film and the perception of time. Through the act of watching, the viewers partake in the creation of a memorial.”
Marcia Ferstenfeld, Splash Magazines Worldwide journalist, had the opportunity of asking Bianca Stigter and Glenn Kurtz about the film – read on.
The first questions were directed to Bianca Stigter
What was it about those 3 minutes plus – that said to you, “There’s more here”?
When I first watched the three and a bit minutes on the website of the US Holocaust Museum, you have one of those rare things happening – that you really feeling ‘Oh my G-d, I am seeing another time, another place, that first I may have thought is forever inaccessible and then through the magic of the recording medium film, there is certainly a link to this to this time. And for me the first reason …was because it was in color. And that is, of course, especially, in home movies extremely rare. We tend to think of history so much in black and white, we almost think it happens in black and white.
But here you saw it in vibrant color that brought it much closer to you – gave it almost a contemporary feeling – and then you see all these children really trying to stay look in the lens, stay…
Right. “Look at me! Look at me!”
You look them in the eye so suddenly you have a connection to a very vibrant community that you know is not existing anymore. It’s been erased. Almost all the people you see have been murdered. But here you see them so alive it almost hurts.
Yes. A window into the past.
Exactly. But then these three minutes are over when you’re just getting into it.
So, I thought couldn’t we think of a way to make it last longer – that we meeting these people for longer than three minutes. So that was, for me, the starting point of the project. I had a feeling if I worked with Glenn, it might just be possible because he had so much information about the footage — that together with the footage itself and all this information – we might have a shot at really doing that.
So, what you’re saying is enchanting for me to hear …I mean how often do I see something and I feel like it’s not enough?
And for you to take that and then say “I’m going to make it more”…
Well, I have a feeling it’s not enough!
That still it’s not enough, right, right. There’s still more. There’s still more.
We could have gone on because that’s also the thing that was the surprise for me on working on this project – except of meeting a lot of very nice and interesting people – that when you really concentrate on a small thing, it can become a whole world. It’s really this micro cosmos and macro cosmos in practice.
I think part of what was so powerful in the film was the fact that we were watching the same three plus minutes and it was never redundant.
Amazing that you can do that.
It was just amazing! It was really amazing! And we kept seeing more.
It kept amazing me too!
So, we could go on and on with that concept in itself, but I wanted to ask you, Glenn, you found this film in what was your grandfather’s property, yes?
Well, my grandfather died before I was born. And, I supposed the film sat at my grandmother’s for a while. At some point it came into my parents’, my father’s possession. It certainly…I think we had it already before my grandmother died. But in essence it sat in a closet for 70 years. I think we probably watched it when I was a kid – I have some recollections – but no one ever…you know, we just thought of it as grandma and grandpa’s vacation video. Nobody thought of it outside of that tiny context of like “Who cares? What’s more boring than watching someone else’s vacation video?” But it was only as an adult – when I saw it really for the first time as an adult. And I saw it for the first time and the moment I saw it I realized this was profoundly important – and of historical significance.
Because it’s certainly the only moving imagery of this town before it was annihilated and very likely the only images at all of many of these people – particularly of the children. And, I mean, I discovered it at a particular moment – I literally inherited it. And with that inheritance, for me, came this profound sense of responsibility — that I was responsible for the memory of these people. And if I didn’t try to understand what it was that my grandfather had captured – who these people were – then no one would. No one would even know that they existed. And so, yeah, I had this immediate, really deep emotionally sense of both connection with the images and with the circumstances of them being taken, but very specifically of the people that we see. All of them at that time unknown to me.
And then this amazing outcome, well… I wondered did you have a connection to the Holocaust Museum already? What gave you the thought that they would be a resource for restoring the film?
Well I did a fair amount of research when I found it and I knew it needed to be preserved. When I found it, it had…the original footage had deteriorated so badly that it wasn’t playable. The only way I was able to see the images was because some time in the 80s it had been transferred to VHS. Probably the last time anybody had seen it. So I was able to watch the images on VHS, but the physical object of the 16mm film was not playable. It had fused into a hockey puck – it was like…you couldn’t even unwind it. So I knew it needed to be restored and I knew that restoration was expensive, so I did a fair amount of research about different repositories that might undertake this. And there were several that were interested, sort of cutting out these three minutes from the fourteen-minute-long film that my grandfather shot of their vacation. This is just a part. But the Holocaust Museum, it just had the best resources, and they wanted the whole film because they wanted to understand the context. And what’s more, their mission is to make their collection publicly accessible. I didn’t want this to go into a vault somewhere and never be seen again. I thought the only way that we’re ever going to learn what’s in it is if someone who knows something happens to see it. And so, the Holocaust Museum was the obvious choice.
It strikes me – the poignant back-to-back of you seeing it as a child and as an adult and how profoundly it impacted you when you saw it, in a way, for the first time with your adult eyes. This was a very new device when he was using it. That he had color at all was very unusual at that time.
Absolutely. So, Kodak had introduced color film in 1935 but the original camera model — you had to go into a dark room and wind the film into the camera – it required some professional level competence. And then in 1937 they introduced this magazine camera which was really an Instamatic! You slapped a film cartridge into it and wound the spring and started shooting. It’s really a beautiful little device. And that was what my grandfather had. He was not a photographer. And this was really a novelty to him. And although I didn’t ever meet him, I know the fact that he’s now a cinematographer with a listing on IMDB is a tremendous pleasure!
That’s great. I wondered, Bianca, what – if you can identify – what was it that…you made a decision to stay with the film and not bring in other footage. Not Morris Chandler as an adult or his granddaughter or any of the other voices. And I’m just curious to know your thinking about that, artistically.
For me the footage was so powerful that I thought the best way to show it is completely focus on that footage – really let it speak.
Let it speak for itself.
And that you don’t need anything else. Although as a historian and as a journalist I’m also very curious, so I understood, especially if you hear Mr. Chandler and see him as a young boy, you want to know what he looks like now. That’s why I put – to satisfy this urge, you know – I put in the end of the movie a little portrait of all the people that you hear in the film. Of Glen, of course, but of Mr. Chandler’s daughter and granddaughter, who you hear as well, and the Polish historian/researcher because we have to be…we can do that to satisfy this urge – it’s just a little bit of a different way than you usually see it.
It was. And I know as my own experience was there was this desire to see the faces. And at the same time, it makes a great deal of sense to me. It’s one of the “less is more” things.
Really not diminishing the message of the film itself with additional snippets of other kinds of footage.
That was my feeling as well. We had to show it undiluted, so to speak. The power of this ??? and then to let it really live and breathe – show the people really as if you can get to know them a little bit and at the same time try to extract as much information from the ??? as we could.
Glenn, when you embarked upon this, I’m going to make the guess that you couldn’t have begun to imagine where it would go, right? Am I right?
I had no idea. When I discovered the film, I knew absolutely nothing about it. I didn’t even know what town it was. And so, my hope was well maybe I’ll find out where it was. And maybe in my wildest dreams I hoped ‘Well maybe I’ll be able to find someone who can tell me what I’m looking at and maybe I’ll find someone who’s in it!” And in the end, I found two people who appeared in the film and had survived still living when I started searching for them, and interviewed them. And I found six other people who don’t appear in the film, at least as far as we know, but who were alive at that time and living in that town and who survived and were still living when I started searching. So, the film had this capacity to keep evolving and reinventing itself. Sort of revealing new layers of complexity and meaning. And I think that Bianca’s film is another of those extraordinary dimensions. And I think Bianca’s film also kind of captures that sense of the film constantly unfolding new bits of meaning and new layers of complexity. And we’ve really only scratched the surface. We’ve identified maybe 20 people. There’s 175 or more people in the film. There’s potentially a huge amount more that we could find. Although almost certainly that information is just lost – that that people were killed and their lives and the connections that formed their lives are gone. (Editor’s Note: There were fewer than one hundred survivors after the war, and now there are at most 8 survivors.)
(Bianca) For me also, the fact that it’s so difficult to find names and identify people is a sign of the scale of the Holocaust. Everybody who could have identified you was also murdered. So in that sense, that gives a real feeling of the scale.
That’s so bittersweet.
(Glenn):Yeah. But every discovery then feels like you’re rescuing something precious. And every time, even if you can’t give a name, every time you recognize a face in the film, oh that kid – he was there in the beginning and now here he is again – you have this sense of ah…there’s a sense of discovery, of connecting, because I think when you speak about the erasure of the culture what that means — it’s individuals primarily, but what make the individuals make sense is the connectedness that they have – the family relationships, the friendships, the culture that they live with, the practices, the behavior, the rituals, all of the…
Which cap they were wearing and what that meant and…
Exactly – there’s no detail that’s not important, that doesn’t carry cultural information. Anything, anything that you can identify.
Anything that you can identify. Well, I just…I was very, very moved by the piece. I thank you so much for your time and for this film. And I look forward to re-watching it because it just keeps giving. It’s just such an amazing experience on so many levels.
(Bianca) That’s so true. Giving to us as well.
(Glenn) Yeah – there’s something magical about this footage. It’s just bottomless. It keeps revealing new dimensions.
Bottomless, yes. Thank you both.