Six Million and One, a documentary about family ties and the Holocaust, opens its exclusive Los Angeles engagement at the Encino Laemmle Town Center 5 on Friday 19. The cinema, which has a strong history of programming films with Jewish themes.
The writer and director of Six Million and One, David Fisher, is currently in Israel, but Patch caught up with him via email for a quick Q&A.
Six Million and One is the third movie in your family trilogy. Can you tell us briefly about the other two, and how this third part is linked to the others?
They all began after my parents passed away. In the first of the films, Love Inventory [...] I recruited my siblings to look for our missing sister as a tribute to my Mom, a mission I rebelled against fulfilling while she was still alive. The other two were made almost at the same time and both talk about fatherhood.
Six Million And One took me to my father's memoir, while in Mostar Roundtrip I am following my beloved son who decided to finish his high school studies in the conflict ridden city of Mostar in Bosnia-Herzegovina. These are all attempts to talk about the importance of inter-generational dialogue and its significance to our lives both as children and as parents.
Can you tell us about the moment you discovered your late father's memoir?
It was when we came to my father's home to clean it up after he passed away. It was in his drawer nearby his bed. It was as if he had written until his last day, which indeed he did. I was amazed, even shocked and of course very curious to find who he really was and what he thought.
Did you know immediately that you wanted to act upon the information the memoir contained, and produce a documentary about your journey?
Actually not. It took me 8 years to understand that I wanted to and that I had to create a film. I started by deconstructing my father's memoir to chapters and stories and situations.
I wrote back to him. I asked him questions. I told him what is happening in my life. I was in constant touch which at the beginning brought me to decide to publish a book titled Letters To My Father. It was meant to be based on his writings. Based on the surprise of finding them and understanding, I've actually discovered a new father, A father I didn't know was pictured between his lines of concise and non-pathetic style of writing. The entire process was a good preparation for the journey that became my compass [...] my medium is the camera and the camera is my pen (camera stylo as it was put by cinema critic Andre Bazin).
What were some of the more striking/memorable passages that you found in the memoir?
All of them are in the film. The most striking passage was when he described the night at Gunskirchen camp:
"I was very weak; I could hardly walk or stand up straight. Inside the camp, people were huddled together on the muddy floor. There were no beds. Some of the people were dying; some already dead. There was no room for us. The people there were much older than we were and had arrived several days before us, so they took over any free spots. I had to sleep outside, in the snow. After a few nights outside, I snuck in to one of the buildings and fell asleep alongside someone, who let me cover myself with his blanket. You might guess why this person let me stay ... You are correct."
What was it like to visit the Gusen concentration camp where your father was held?
This is the most difficult question to answer. It was terrifying, shocking and paralyzing… I wanted to run the hell out from that place as well as dig deeper to find the truth.
I wanted to shoot all of the people I met on the streets as well as understanding that they might ignore history but can't be held responsible. I wanted home—my home.
What were some of the film-making challenges you experienced talking to WWII Veterans in the U.S. and visiting the "dark, underground shafts of Gusen"?
The challenge with the veterans was to believe it is true. They are post traumatized just from what they saw—so I kept asking myself, if they were traumatized from what they saw, what must my father—who was liberated from that place—have carried about these atrocities as a constant shadow to himself? It wasn't so easy to locate the veterans but it was the most moving situation for me, because they could report on a very specific moment which my father didn't dare to write [about] in detail. I don't remember any other film where these deep and very private emotions of veterans were shared in public. I felt like I owe these guys, although I also understood that they were not there to rescue the prisoners from the camp but to fight the Nazi army. But at the end, both goals were achieved.
Six million Jewish people were murdered in the Holocaust. Who is the additional 'One' in the film's title?
My father. He was liberated but deep in him he was a victim that quite successfully disguised his personal mental struggle with hard work and providing for his family.
You say in the director's note that this is a film about sibling intimacy, not the Holocaust. How did you persuade your siblings to take part in the journey? How did it change your relationships with one another?
Once I told them the Austrians will open the tunnels for us and this is a once in a life time experience, they actually understood that it was my way to ask their help and their backup.
It was then that they understood I was serious and needed them. And not only offering an abstract issue but going on a real quest to answer the question of who our father was to each and everyone of us.
At one moment in the film, your sister is shouting at you for bringing her to the tunnels of Gusen, and then your brother cracks a joke and everyone laughs. Can you talk about how you felt at that moment, about the value of humor in a dark moment?
Humor is so very important and was so much needed that we all understood that our pain paved its way out in such precious moments. The differences among us siblings made irony a tool to survive the trip we made.
Six Million and One, 2011. Unrated. 97 minutes. In Hebrew, English and German with English subtitles. Opens October 19 at Laemmle Town Center 5, 17200 Ventura Blvd., Encino. Tel: 310-478-3836. For showtimes, click here.