Thursday, May 22, 2008

A Generation Apart

A Generation Apart
Directed by Jack Fisher
City Lights

Some events are often thought to cause psychological repercussions for generations to come, but it seems like the Holocaust is rarely discussed in such terms. Director Jack Fisher, the son of survivors, came to believe his parents’ experiences had a profound impact on his and his brothers’ lives. Exploring those issues led to his film A Generation Apart (trailer here), now available on DVD.

Though from the same village, Alan and Esther Fisher survived the Holocaust separately, meeting after the liberation in a refuge center in Cypress. Jack Fisher was born in Israel before the family relocated to New York, eventually settling in Brooklyn. Between the brothers and their families, Friday night dinners are set for an extended family of eleven at the time Generation was filmed.

Not everyone in the family posits the Holocaust with the same formative significance as the filmmaker brother. The eldest brother Joe is a constant corrective, often challenging his assumptions. In frank discussions he even raises the sort of issues of memory appropriation that marked the recent film Memory Thief. At one point the elder brother emphatically tells the director their parents lived through a different Holocaust than the one he thinks he understands.

One of the merits of Generation is its refusal to straight-jacket every figure into preconceived notions. In the commentary track, Fisher admits many interview subjects, contrary to his expectations, took strength from their parents experiences, leading him make a film: “in some ways the opposite of what was intended.” Giving wider context are on-screen interviews with Shelly, an artist friend; Yoram, an Israeli actor playing an SS officer; and Peter, a former doctor from Australia. While the actor flatly denies the Holocaust’s significance to his life, Shelly and her mother clearly have very real conflicts, rooted in her Mother’s horrific experiences, which they appear to resolve during the course of the film. Peter and the Fisher brothers seem to fall into various points between these two extremes.

In perhaps the film’s pivotal scene, Shelly’s mother tells a story of a malnourished little boy doomed to death after only a brief existence in the ghetto. Relating her feelings for her children to her memory of that child, she makes the connection the film seems to be looking for.

Generation is a very humane film. Its participants speak with direct honesty about very painful subjects. Although quite heartfelt, the music by Peter Arnow can get a bit intrusive at times and probably would have been more effective mixed down somewhat. The original film (reflecting the look of the early 1980’s) is augmented for DVD with some recent commentary, including Alan Fisher’s moving tribute to his wife, who had passed away well after Generation was completed. In addition to providing valuable oral history of the Holocaust, Generation also offers some unique insight, well worth viewing and reflecting on.