From Auschwitz to Hollywood is a documentary about the two very different yet deeply connected lives of Branko Lustig. As a child, Lustig was imprisoned at two different concentration camps, Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen, until being liberated. As an adult, he entered the film business, which eventually led to him receiving a call from Steven Spielberg regarding a movie in early development: Schindler’s List. Uniquely qualified, Lustig was brought on as a producer and subsequently won an Oscar. During his acceptance speech, he mentioned the long road from Auschwitz to Hollywood—a road this film hopes to elaborate on.
Most of the time, the short uses Lustig’s own words to describe his journey. For authenticity sake, it’s a good idea, but for the sake of presentation, it’s more than a little debilitating. Lustig’s narration is stitched together from many different interviews without much in-between, making it sound like an endless, monotone sentence. Since his narration is subtitled, you feel as if you’re reading an interesting memoir but only being fed five words at a time, which is as frustrating as it sounds.
“During his acceptance speech, he mentioned the long road from Auschwitz to Hollywood…”
Thankfully, Lustig’s story is strong enough to shake off most of the surface frustrations, and the hardships and saga of WWII will never cease to provide new angles from which to see it. There’s a particular tale Lustig tells that begins with his father offering free food for law enforcement and ends with Lustig in a concentration camp about to be shot like a lame horse. It’s one of those stories that you’d write off as Hollywood idealism if it didn’t actually happen. Two moments stand out from Lustig’s experience with Schindler’s List. One is the only scene during production that he had difficulty tolerating, while the other is a story about Spielberg yelling at him.
After winning an Oscar for Schindler’s List, Lustig won another for producing Gladiator. He also worked on Black Hawk Down and American Gangster. Once he had his fill of Hollywood, Lustig retired and took up a life of public speaking. After some time in the fantasy realm, he chose to end his life with its darkest and most real moments, now with a lifetime of perspective to frame them.
From Auschwitz to Hollywood isn’t a comprehensive portrait of Lustig’s life, nor is it a particularly flashy one, but you’d have to be a reverse-genius to make the man’s life not worth watching in whatever form it’s presented.
"…one of those stories that you’d write off as Hollywood idealism if it didn’t actually happen."