Hollywood’s erratic response to the devastation of the Holocaust is the focus of Daniel Anker’s documentary, which brings together a wealth of remarkable film clips and interviews with the filmmakers who tried to address the subject.
Anker shows how Hollywood tried to ignore the subject before U.S. involvement in World War II (only Charles Chaplin’s “The Great Dictator” dared address the anti-Semitic Nazi policies), but the documentaries of the liberated concentration camps created a shocked reaction that resonated for over a decade. It was not until “The Diary of Anne Frank” in 1958 that a Hollywood studio took on the subject.
The film explores the making of “The Pawnbroker”(1965), the TV mini-series “Holocaust” (1978) and “Schindler’s List” (1994) as crucial moments in Holocaust cinema history, but it curiously downplays the significance of “Judgment of Nuremberg” (1961) and the numerous documentaries on the subject that proliferated since the 1980s. There is also no mention of Orson Welles’ independently produced “The Stranger” (1946), which incorporated footage of the Nazi atrocities into its story of a war criminal in hiding, nor is there acknowledgment of the European films that boldly addressed the subject during the many years that Hollywood chose to silence.
Nonetheless, “Imaginary Witness” deserves merit for detailing a painful subject with maturity and intelligence.