Who Will Write Our History Movie Review

Who Will Write Our History will debut on January 17th at the New York Jewish Festival.

WHO WILL WRITE OUR HISTORY Poster (Image Courtesy of Katahidin Productions)

For a topic as seemingly forborne as the Holocaust, most filmmakers would assume that there was very little ground left to cover in cinemas, outside of retreading worn footing. And in most regards, they would be correct as the subject quickly is shifted further and further back from the cinemas. But with Who Will Write Our History, a documentary from award-winning filmmaker Roberta Grossman, a fascinating new subject is brought to the light. The subject of historian Emanuel Ringelblum and a group of writers who are determined to counter the horrific strikes from the Nazis against their religion through hidden and restored time capsules. It’s an interesting dichotomy that juxtaposes the aggressive nature of the Germans against the more passive approaches of the Jewish writers.

Actor Jowita Budnik portrays Rachel Auerbach. (Image Courtesy of Katahidin Productions)

However, even though the idea is interesting and boundless with potential, this 90-minute documentary is far too bloated, cold, stale, lifeless, and worst of all-indulgent. An ending that is designed to capitalize on the audience’s investment doesn’t work at all if there is no emotional investment to begin with. And for a massive portion of the film, Grossman simply goes in circles, with little progress in the story being made. And while its ambitious attempts in merging a variety of mediums: interviews, recreations in original scenes, voiceovers, photographs, historical footage, etc., are respectable, it comes off more disjointed as the mediums never merge to create a collective experience. Displaying a remarkable concept, Grossman’s latest directorial effort, Who Will Write Our History, plunges itself into a stale and cold mess that never knows when enough is enough.

Andrew Bering portrays Israel Lichtenstein Preparing First Cache. (Image Courtesy of Katahidin Productions)

If there is one thing that Grossman and company handle capably is the film’s gorgeous look. It certainly won’t rival more high-budget productions, given the clearly smaller budget, cinematographer Dyanna Taylor has some excellent shots bundled in here. One in particular towards the end of the film sent actual shivers up my arm, with its sheer intricacy juxtaposed with a short simplicity. In addition, Jowita Budnik as Rachel Auerbach and Piotr Glowacki as Emanuel Ringelblum are moderate, even if their screenplay isn’t much by any stretch of the imagination. At their worst, they are minor annoyances, but at their best, they propel the constantly dragging story.

Actor Jowita Budnik portrays Rachel Auerbach in Soup Kitchen. (Image Courtesy of Katahidin Productions)

But what makes Who Will Write Our History a disappointment more than anything is its disastrous pacing and storytelling. It certainly has the story ideas to tug at heartstrings and create dynamic emotion with the audience, but it does nothing even remotely close to that. Its atmosphere is so stiff that it becomes impossible to relate with any of the characters. In addition, its focus proves to be so scatter-brained that the audience’s attention is never set on a character for more than a mere twenty minutes. Grossman chooses to transition between multiple characters, most likely to envelope the situation and its direness, but she comes off as indulgent. There simply is no practical use to these sequences and just the very inclusion of the first half of the film ruins whatever concept the script may have had. She isn’t able to fully express the characters, making them un relatable at best.

Warsaw Ghetto Market Scene. (Image Courtesy of Katahidin Productions)

As a whole, Who Will Write Our History plays like an embarrassment of riches when the host actually has nothing of the sort. Its overconfidence and egotistical attitude with its storytelling proves to be its downfall, as it causes the film to lose any footing with the audience. Its conclusion isn’t satisfying, mostly because it relies on groundwork that wasn’t done in the previous acts. Grossman and cinematographer Dyanna Taylor may have created a stunning film from a rather small budget, but the sheer amateur-nature that the storytelling entails is far from excusable.

Score: 3.8 out of 10

In November 1940, days after the Nazis sealed 450,000 Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto, a secret band of journalists, scholars, and community leaders decided to fight back. Led by historian Emanuel Ringelblum and known by the code name Oyneg Shabes, this clandestine group vowed to defeat Nazi lies and propaganda not with guns or fists but with pen and paper. They detailed life in the Ghetto from the Jewish perspective. They commissioned diaries, essays, jokes, poems, and songs. They documented Nazi atrocities with eyewitness accounts. They sent reports of mass murder to London via the Polish underground. Then, as trains deported them to the gas chambers of Treblinka and the Ghetto burned to the ground, they buried 60,000 pages of documentation in the hopes that the archive would survive the war, even if they did not.

Now, for the first time, the story of Emanuel Ringelblum and the Oyneg Shabes archive is told as a feature documentary. Written, produced, and directed by Roberta Grossman and executive produced by Nancy Spielberg, Who Will Write Our History mixes the writings of the archive with new interviews, rarely seen footage, and stunning dramatizations to transport us inside the Ghetto and the lives of these courageous resistance fighters. Featuring the voices of three-time Academy Award® nominee Joan Allen and Academy Award® winner Adrien Brody, the film honors the Oyneg Shabes members’ determination in creating the most important cache of eyewitness accounts to survive the war. It follows their moments of hope, as well as their despair, desperation and anger, sometimes at their fellow Jews as much as their Nazi captors. It captures their humor, longing, hunger, and determination to retain their humanity in the face of unspeakable hardships. Ultimately, through their voices, actions, and real-time experiences, Who Will Write Our History vanquishes those who distort and dehumanize the “Other” in favor of those who stand up, fight back and, as one Oyneg Shabes member writes, “scream the truth to the world.”

Who Will Write Our History will debut on January 17th at the New York Jewish Festival.

Supporting Film, Literature, and Gaming Since June 1st, 2018.

  • Twitter
  • YouTube