'Shadows From My Past': Film Review

Resistance Documentary Archive, Vienna
This highly personal documentary too often suffers from the filmmakers' technical inexpertise

Curt and Gita Weinrauch's documentary recounts the experiences of her family in Austria during the Holocaust

There’s no denying the heartfelt urgency of Gita Weinrauch Kaufman and Curt Kaufman’s personal account of the experiences of Gita’s family during the Holocaust. Although she escaped from Austria as a child in 1940 on the very day that she and her immediate family were to be deported to the Dachau concentration camp, Gita’s other relatives, including aunts and uncles, were not so lucky. Structured around readings of excerpts of many family letters written during the period, Shadows From My Past also attempts to explore the complicity of Austria during the Holocaust and whether anti-Semitism exists there to this day.

The homegrown project was clearly years in the making, since it includes interviews with such long-deceased figures as famed Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal and infamous former UN Secretary General Kurt Waldheim. Adopting a Barbara Walters-style aggressiveness, Gita presses the latter on the allegations of his Nazi background, with Waldheim not so surprisingly offering firm denials of any complicity.

Among the other interview subjects are current Austrian president Heinz Fischer, who admits that his country was both “a victim and a contributor” to the Nazi plague; former U.S. ambassador to Austria Ronald Lauder; Austrian refugee Eric Pleskow, the former head of United Artists and Orion Pictures, and various academics and historians. In one of the more startling and moving conversations, an aged Holocaust survivor tells about his briefly meeting Anne Frank before she was shipped off to another concentration camp.

While the family letters — which were also the subject of an award-winning audio-visual presentation that the couple has presented in various forums, including the University of Vienna — are indeed affecting, the way in which they’re presented proves visually and aurally monotonous. The co-directors reveal their cinematic inexperience with the film’s choppy, haphazard structure and poor sound and video quality. Nor do they explore their theme of current anti-Semitism in Austria with any degree of clarity or revelation.

The film is ultimately moving by the sheer dint of the emotional power of its subject matter. But despite their personal connection to the events depicted, the filmmakers would have been well advised to put the material in more professional hands.

Director/screenwriters: Curt Kaufman, Gita Weinrauch Kaufman

Producers: Curt Kaufman, Gita Weinrauch Kaufman, Dieter Pochlatko

Director of photography: Curt Kaufman

Editors: Curt Kaufman, Michaela Mullner, Charlotte Mullner

Composer: Markus Pochinger

No rating, 86 minutes

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