A short piece of found film becomes a fascinating journey into the past in Bianca Stigter’s haunting and moving documentary.
Nasielsk is a small village some 30 miles north of Warsaw. In 1938, when the three-minute piece of footage that lies at the heart of this film was shot, it had a population of 7,000. Almost half were Jewish, and many were employed at the local Jewish-owned button factory. The film, once a snippet capturing everyday life, has become a record of a world that irrevocably changed. Just over a year later, the local Jewish population was ordered to gather in the square that appears in the film, to become prisoners of the Nazis and, for the majority, to be killed by them. By the end of the Second World War, only 100 of the village’s Jews had survived.
Narrated by Helena Bonham Carter, the celluloid itself is interrogated and probed using a plethora of restoration techniques in an attempt to mine it for hidden histories. This investigative narrative gradually unearths the backgrounds of the multitude of faces seen in the footage, not only lending them context, but also commemorating their existence. What starts out as an innocuous glimpse of a moment in time becomes a deeper, richer understanding of the people who pass before us and the value of their lives.