In the Everyman Cinema Leeds, Holocaust Centre North hosted Bianca Stigter for a screening of her film Three Minutes: A Lengthening. The main event was preceded by Holocaust Centre North’s artist in residence April Lin’s 林森 short film The Gaps Between the Unforgettable and was followed by a Q & A session with the artist and Chair of the Holocaust Survivors’ Friendship Association Jenny Kagan and the director of Three Minutes, Bianca Stigter.
During his introduction Andrew Key, Holocaust Centre North’s Development Coordinator, emphasised that “collective experience” generated via audience participation and dialogue prevents matters such as the Holocaust from diminishing into historical fact. Through attending events such as this screening, poignant discussion, reflection and ideas cultivate, retaining profundity and meaning around the Holocaust and ensuring that the lives of the victims and memories of the survivors who are no longer able to share their testimonies persist, are learnt from and discovered anew.
These sentiments were heavily felt throughout the theatre. As discussions and education concerning the Holocaust have predominantly been led by survivors’ testimonies and their discussions with audience members, it is now evident that the inheritance of that method should translate into gatherings and discussions through which people can share and understand. This approach, via exhibitions, talks, lectures, documentary screenings and education organised by Holocaust Centre North and other such organisations, are powerful means through which we continue to be conscious of the atrocities which should never be forgotten.
April Lin’s 林森 The Gaps Between the Unforgettable consists of shots linking photographs, ephemera, Judaica and toys, objects which are part of the Holocaust Centre North’s collection, with ‘post-memory’. As theorised by Marianne Hirsch, post-memory means the recollections, impressions and inheritances received and experienced by second-generation trauma victims, those removed from the events by the fact that they are the children of survivors yet still deeply affected, inheriting trauma and memories vicariously. Those affected by post-memory envision their parents’ recollections as their own memories. The generation after, according to Hirsch, bears the “personal, collective, and cultural trauma of those who came before— to experiences they “remember” only by means of the stories, images, and behaviours”. The isolated objects in Lin’s film reflect post-memory: these are objects which have been salvaged, have remained and are memories themselves, that can continue to resonate with the inheritors of those objects and memories. The everyday objects in Lin’s film have metamorphosed into iconography of the Holocaust. The objects filmed, artefacts left behind and which survived, are whispers of what had been destroyed. They have thereby become important due to being redolent of what was lost.
Fragments, remains and the need to preserve, restore and explore are the themes which are expertly threaded through the fabric of Stigter’s remarkable Three Minutes: A Lengthening. The film considers footage of the Jewish inhabitants of Nasielsk, the details of the footage unknown when the original was discovered. Stigter’s film is a remarkable synthesis of analysis, research, care, devotion and curiosity, showing the transformation of the anonymous into a recognisable story of rediscovered and revitalised humanity.
The film opens with the original footage playing in its entirety. The footage details arbitrary scenes of what could be perceived as nameless people, unidentified within an unidentified location. Alone, it could simply be a time period caught in a film reel, a whisper. The footage, filmed by David Kurtz in 1938 while on a Grand Tour of Europe, was discovered in his home by his grandson Glenn in 2009. The footage was restored by the United State Holocaust Memorial Museum and placed on its website, which led the granddaughter of Maurice Chandler to identify him as a boy in the footage, determining that the location was Nasielsk. Stitger, profoundly moved by the film, by the quotidian nature of the scenes, the curiosity of the children in celluloid, the life conveyed and tragedy of their loss, brilliantly extended those three minutes into over an hour. Narrated by Helena Bonham Carter, assisted by Glenn Kurtz’s commentary and the moving recollections of Maurice Chandler, this film, through desiring to resuscitate and name those who had become anonymous faces, highlights the importance of research and archival work. It is a remarkable example of dedication and investment, of understanding and devotion of time to those who were robbed of their own.
Stigter’s scrutiny of detail, freezing and magnifying frames to decipher grainy lettering above shop doorways, the replaying of angles to determine the time of day, vivifies those three minutes, the footage’s subjects and the erased world, reversing the eradication as much as is possible. The film exhibits a filmmaker’s refusal to relinquish the inhabitants of Nasilsk into anonymity, so much so that throughout her documentary, Stigter only shows components of the original footage: close ups, repetition and ‘lengthening’. The documentary demonstrates the importance of engaging in research, archival work and intensive analysis in rediscovering the past. Yet the film is not merely that. By documenting this research, Stigter is emphasising and devoting attention to what is lost and by extension profoundly expresses that what is lost can be given new breath through our research, consideration and curiosity, the impact of which was strikingly moving.
During the Q & A, when asked why she was affected so deeply by the footage, Stigter said that the purity of the footage being amateur and arbitrary, with no narrative nor intent beyond photographing life, resulted in quintessential truth that cannot manifest in any other artform. Stigter also said that she found the footage frustrating, not only because it was impossible to identify everyone filmed but also because one sees the exuberance of the children and is aware of what will happen to them shortly afterwards. This was another reason why she was incentivised to create the film and lengthen those three minutes, so that these people can exist a little longer in this world.
The evening ended with Alessandro Bucci, Holocaust Centre North’s Director, reading a letter of gratitude to the Centre’s education department from someone who formerly had extremist beliefs. The man had been taken through the museum’s exhibits by Hannah Randall, the museum’s Head of Learning and through education, conversation and accessibility he realised his errors. Every facet of the evening encapsulated the need for reflection, conversation and for the continuance of this dialogue as we move further into a new era. This “collective experience” hosted by Holocaust Centre North is the method through which research, education and remembrance can translate into the 21st century, a ‘’collective experience’’ which definitely needs to be repeated.
By Asher Max Cowan ©
Asher Max Cowan is graduating with a History of Art BA Honours from the University of Leeds and is undertaking an MA in Art History, Curatorship and Renaissance Culture at The Warburg Institute, School of Advanced Study, University of London in conjunction with the National Gallery, London. His interests include art history, cultural & social history and Jewish history and identity analysed through the lens of art history and visual culture. His experience includes the Ben Uri Gallery and Museum and Bolton Museum and Library. Asher Max Cowan can be contacted via Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/asher-max-cowan-b35518227/