A three-minute color film showing the hectic life of a Jewish community less than a year before the outbreak of World War II has been “stretched” into a full-length documentary.
Originally a travel souvenir, the film shot by American David Kurtz in 1938 is one of the only recordings of moving images of a typical Jewish town in Poland on the brink of disaster.
Made during a summer tour of Europe, the 16mm film sat unnoticed in a Palm Beach home for decades until it was discovered in a battered tin can by Kurtz’s grandson, Glenn. Kurtz.
After viewing scenes from the Alps and Dutch villages, Glenn came across the three-minute sequence showing the community of Jews in his grandfather’s hometown of Nasielsk, just north of Warsaw.
Crowds of curious young people crowd around Kurtz on a cobbled street, their faces beaming with innocence and fascination with the camera, a novelty at the time.
Realizing the significance of what he had discovered, in 2009 Glenn Kurtz donated the film to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, where experts restored and digitized the film.
In 2015 he published a book called Three Minutes in Poland: Discovering a Lost World in a 1938 Family Film, which became filmmaker Bianca Stitger’s inspiration for making what amounts to a cinematic monument to the Jews of Nasielsk. shown in the movie.
In Three Minutes: A Lengthening, Stiger examines the existing three minutes to unravel the stories hidden within the celluloid.
Using only Kurtz’s original footage, she zooms in, showing the frames frame by frame, zooming in and focusing on detail, stretching the three minutes to seventy.
Sometimes it is shown in slow motion, sometimes motionless, moving forward and backward to derive meaning from each frame.
In total, she extracted the portraits of 150 Jews from Nasielsk, even putting names on some of them.
Stitger said: “It’s a short streak, but it’s amazing what it brings back.
“We had to work as archaeologists to extract as much information as possible from this film.”
Off-camera, Helena Bonham Carter narrates and Nasielsk survivor Maurice Chandler (born Moszek Tuchendler) talks about the village and its people.
Chandler, who is one of the smiling teenagers in the film, was one of the few to survive, escaping on false papers.
Now in his 90s, he was identified by his granddaughter who recognized him from the film, when the museum put him on its website.
Jews began to settle in Nasielsk in the 17th century. By 1939, the community had grown to about 3,000 people.
The Germans entered Nasielsk in September 1939 and began to reign terror. At 7:30 a.m. on December 3, all Jews were ordered to come to the marketplace within 15 minutes.
From there they were sent to a station four kilometers away. Forced down a muddy path, they were whipped by the German guards and forced to roll in the mud.
They were deported to ghettos in Łuków and Międzyrzec, from where they were eventually mostly sent to die in Treblinka.
Of the 3,000 members of the Jewish community in Nasielsk, only 100 survived the Holocaust.
Thanks to Kurtz’s book, Stitger’s film, and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, some of the people from the original film as well as details about the community have been uncovered and restored.
Three Minutes: A Lengthening premiered at the Venice Film Festival in September last year.
It continues to screen at documentary festivals, including the Sundance Film Festival in January, and is expected to hit theaters widely in April.