HBO Picks Up Doc About 'Shoah' Director Claude Lanzmann (Exclusive)

Claude Lanzmann - H 2015
AP Images

Claude Lanzmann - H 2015

Adam Benzine's film explores the harrowing artistic journey by the French filmmaker to complete his landmark 9 1/2 hour film about the Holocaust.

HBO Documentary Films has picked up the U.S. TV rights to Adam Benzine's documentary about iconic French director Claude Lanzmann

Lanzmann's landmark 1985 documentary Shoah is considered among the best films ever made about the Holocaust. HBO plans a 2016 broadcast debut for Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah, possibly on Holocaust Memorial Day.

The Canadian documentary, which had its world premiere this week at Hot Docs under the working title Lanzmann, also has European broadcasters ZDF and ARTE boarding as co-producers, securing the German and French broadcast rights. DR TV acquired the Danish TV rights.

Benzine told The Hollywood Reporter that his film chronicles Lanzmann's harrowing artistic journey from 1973 to 1985 to make Shoah. The Toronto-based director also hopes Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah on HBO will see Hollywood at long last give Lanzmann his due as a master filmmaker.

"One of the things that struck me is Shoah was never nominated for an Oscar. It's a grave injustice. It's the most important documentary ever made and certainly the most important Holocaust film," Benzine said of the snub by the Academy's documentary branch.

Shoah, at 9 1/2 hours in length, has never been easy to program for TV or film festivals, Benzine conceded. "And Shoah is certainly not a feel-good film. That's the point," he added of Lanzmann's signature film, which Hollywood overlooked in favor of more Oscar-friendly Holocaust films like Steven Speilberg's Schindler's List and Robert Benigni's Life is Beautiful.

Lanzmann's film about Nazi death camps in Poland debuted at the Berlin Film Festival in 1986, and was groundbreaking in including no archival footage. Shoah featured instead the Nazi death camp sites of Auschwitz, Treblinka and Chelmno 40 years after the war, and interviews with Jewish survivors, German perpetrators and Polish bystanders.

Shoah was edited from 225 hours of film footage, and Benzine's film captures the personal toll the epic project took on Lanzmann, who is interviewed extensively. That hardship included financial difficulties the filmmaker faced while completing Shoah, his painstaking work to convince Holocaust survivors to talk on screen, and the filmmaker enduring a severe beating at the hands of former Nazis during secret undercover filming.

The making of Shoah almost drove Lanzmann to suicide, the film recounts. Benzine wrote, produced and directed Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah, with Nick Fraser executive producing and Kimberley Warner co-producing.

Joel Goodman (JFK, Walt Disney) wrote the documentary's score. The U.S., French, German and Danish TV deals were brokered by Benzine and Warner.

Additional sales will be handled by Philippa Kowarsky of Cinephil, who signed on to represent the film out of Hot Docs

August 29, 2015 4:00 p.m. Updated story to indicate working title of film at Hot Docs festival, and correct English spelling of Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah title for HBO.