When skepticism about the savagery of attacks by Hamas terrorists against Jews in Israel first surfaced, the Israel Defense Forces put together 45 minutes of gruesome imagery — most of it shot by the perpetrators — of murder, beheadings, rapes and other atrocities against Jewish adults and children. Initially shown to world leaders, ambassadors and journalists covering the attack and the ensuing response by Israel military forces, that footage will be shown this week in screenings organized in Hollywood and New York.
Several in Hollywood who are Jewish spoke with me to see if I’d been among those who were torn over whether they needed to subject themselves to footage which will be presented without narration, and the only sounds coming from terrorists committing the atrocities, and the victims who believed something like this could never happen again. Right now, there is only the screenings this week — Deadline agreed to not divulge the day or location for security reasons but it won’t be difficult to find a ticket for those who need one — but I would not be surprised if more screenings follow. The film is being called “Bearing Witness,” a phrase commonly used about the Holocaust. The screening organizers, who worked with the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee to put this together, hope that it puts to rest the skepticism about the events of October 7 that left 1,400 dead and 240 taken hostage, and to remind that the attack is the reason for the ground war that is currently being waged in Gaza, creating death and suffering in its aftermath.
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I spoke with Guy Nattiv, the Oscar-winning Israeli filmmaker whose film Golda dealt with Golda Meir’s attempts to save Israel from being destroyed in the Yom Kippur War of 1973, and whose films Skin and Stranger have tackled anti-semitism and hatred in other forms. He will be the public face of these screenings. I asked him why actively offer footage you cannot un-see to political dignitaries, entertainment industry leaders and local officials. He said it brought full circle a value instilled in him by his Holocaust survivor grandfather, Ruben Monowitz, of what happens when people are allowed to shrug their shoulders and marginalize or discount barbaric violence.
“I’m going to go back to the Holocaust, to my grandfather,” Nattiv said. “He was sent together with his family to Auschwitz. And when he was 60, the only survivor of this terrible Holocaust — Ruben escaped but was sent to a hard labor work camp but spared — he took the grandkids to Poland again, when he was 60. He took all of us. And when we stood there in Auschwitz, he told me, look, I hate the Germans, the Nazis for what they did to me. But I more hate the Polish, because they said nothing. They saw me and my family, the atrocities, and they said nothing. They were waving at us when we were loaded on these trucks. And the world said nothing when those atrocities in Europe happened. And he said, ‘Guy, you as a filmmaker, I’m telling you, never again is now you need to use your voice as a filmmaker in order to bring the atrocities back to the people and show what happened.’ October 7th brought me back to the Holocaust, the way it was done, children, babies, women, raped, burned, alive, beheaded. And people do not believe us. Again, it’s the same scenario, now: it didn’t happen. I have a Palestinian friend who’s a good guy who read online that the rave party, that people just ran away and were not killed. There were a lot of lies out there. I was so outraged.
“To have that raw footage shown to the world…it doesn’t matter if it’s LA, New York or Japan, people need to see what happened. This is a holocaust. This is not just an incident. My grandfather gave me this kind of mitzvah…I don’t know the right word for that, but he gave me the mission to bring the truth to the world. And that’s been my cinema with the short film Skin, and the feature Golda. I am making a cinema that’s telling true stories about the world we live in. That’s why this screening is not only for Jews. This screening is for everyone from the industry. And it’s from a filmmaker to a filmmaker, from a storyteller to a storyteller.”
Nattiv said his grandfather had a family of 16 people, sisters, brothers, mothers. “Everyone perished. And I have two sides of the family. So I have the Romanian side, and he’s the Polish side. So they all perished. And my grandparents were the only survivors.
“When I am writing an email to a filmmaker, I’m writing as a filmmaker, somebody who’s bringing the truth to the world,” he continued. “That is my goal here. To show what started everything. The atrocities, the mini-Holocaust that happened there, that we as a nation, we as the world cannot stand still and silent and just move on. Now, it doesn’t mean that I’m not pro-Palestinian. I am pro-two state solution. I have Palestinian friends. I am a left wing filmmaker, but this is not a left or right wing thing. This is just something that the whole world should see it. So that’s my mission.”
I ask Nattiv about the inevitable outcry reflecting what many put on social media, lamenting footage of victims suffering from the ground war in Gaza whose purpose is eradicating Hamas and freeing hostages.
“I’m not canceling out anything that happens to other people,” he said. “I’m hurting about every person that is losing his or her life in this war. It’s terrible. That should be seen, everything should be seen out there and this screening does not disqualify other peoples’ misery.”
The footage, he said, has been culled by the IDF and approved by the families of victims who appear in it. It is an eerie parallel to footage seen around the world only after Germany was defeated in WWII.
“There was a series of raw footage after the Holocaust that was shown to the world,” he said. It was not really a documentary, but raw footage put together after 1945, all the footage the Americans took or the found footage from the Germans. They put it together and they showed it to the world. That’s exactly what we’re doing. It’s what the IDF has done. It is the same footage that they’ve shown to the government.
“There are the two forms of videos; one is from the helmets of the Hamas terrorists, found when they were killed by IDF forces. Some of it is CCTV, like home TV, Video cameras from the homes that recorded everything that happened in the house and outside the house, and rescuers that came after the slaughter, after the massacre when they took their videos. So everything is documented from real cameras.”
There is cruel irony here, the idea that the hot ticket in town might be a movie that no one will want to see. I suggested it will make those who see it feel as you do when you visit the World Trade Center Memorial, Pearl Harbor, a Holocaust museum or camps. You don’t go to these for enjoyment, but it somehow seems important that you do go, and remember.
“Look, can I tell you one last thing? What you’re talking about is the footage that people told me, don’t worry, it’ll never happen again,” Nattiv told me. “When I worked on Golda, I met with all those commanders from that debacle, because it was a failure. And every commander I spoke to told me, yeah, it happened when you were born, in 1970. It’ll never happen again. We’re much smarter and we learn from it. And guess what? It happened again. When they told us about the Holocaust, they said, they will never burn Jews again. Guess what? It happened again. And the world does not believe us. That is like going full circle to 1939-1945. It’s insanity. So it’s not just about a terror attack. This is a holocaust. And that’s why for me, as a third generation Holocaust survivors, as a filmmaker who live in the States as an American, that’s my duty to bring it to the world. I am just gutted over this.”
“It is important for audiences beyond traditional journalists and elected officials to see — to bear witness — to the horrific atrocities committed by Hamas on October 7th,” said Lieutenant Colonel Amnon Shefler, IDF Spokesperson. “We are in an existential battle for the truth. Every person has a role to play in helping to disseminate the truth and counter the denial, the distortions that we are sadly already seeing. We must look evil in the eye and have the moral clarity to stand united against terror.”
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