Lion of Judah: Film Review

Matt Mindell's doc is tepid stuff compared to the gutsy stories its protagonist has to tell

81 year-old Auschwitz survivor Leo Zisman leads young Jews through all the places he almost died.

With its bold name and pulpy, barbed-wire-tangled poster art, Matt Mindell's Lion of Judah presents itself as the portrait of "a brave soul" whose "in-your-face" tale will shed new light on the experience of Jews during WWII.

In fact, the doc is little more than the home movie of a tour through Holocaust sites, albeit one whose guide -- 81 year-old Auschwitz survivor Leo Zisman -- exhibited jaw-dropping defiance during his boyhood imprisonment there. There might be a movie in Zisman's story, but this film scrambles his personal recollections up with half-hearted reporting work and others' commonplace expressions of horror, winding up with something of interest only to those for whom "never forget" demands embracing every Holocaust memoir produced in the last 60-plus years.

Having penned one autobiography, Zisman is spending his retirement giving lectures and tours about his survival. We watch as he leads a group of 35 young Jews through what remains of the Warsaw Ghetto, Poland's Majdanek concentration camp, Auschwitz, and other sites of atrocity. This format allows Zisman to recount some anecdotes (too few are included here), but also inspires Mindell to splice in follow-up interviews with three of the tour's participants and his own cameraman (the only non-Jew on the trip). While all four were clearly moved by standing on the ground where so many were killed, the experience hasn't granted any of them an insight we don't already share. Mindell's cursory man-on-street shots of young Poles, seemingly meant to suggest that Europe doesn't dwell sufficiently on its history and that a second Holocaust is therefore not unthinkable, is really just more diversion from the film's ostensible subject.


Production Company: JEC

Director-Screenwriter: Matt Mindell

Producers: Matt Mindell, Joe Kavitski

Directors of photography: Joe Kavitski, Ben Donnellon

Music: Matt Turk

Editor: Joe Kavitski

No rating, 59 minutes