Massachusetts Multicultural Film Festival: something a little different

By Kevin Romani

Matthew Harrison/Collegian
Matthew Harrison/Collegian

Last Wednesday night, a crowd gathered at the Isenberg School of Management’s Flavin Family Auditorium for a special screening of “A Film Unfinished.” The Israeli-produced documentary included lost footage filmed by the Nazis in the Warsaw, Poland ghetto from 1942.

 “A Film Unfinished” was screened with director Yael Hersonski in attendance. For years, an unfinished documentary depicting events from the Warsaw ghetto was believed to be an accurate representation of life in the ghetto. Years later, however, additional footage of goings-on there were discovered which changed the meaning of the visuals. Camera operators were seen setting up shots and directing Jews relegated to the ghetto on how to act and appear while they were filmed. It was clear this film was not a documentary, and that it was nothing more than propaganda the Nazis planned on using before the project was scrapped for whatever reason. In a question-and-answer session that followed, Hersonski stated, “Both the truth and the lie can exist in this definition of history. The way the Nazi propaganda machine functioned is part of history.”

Hersonski’s film brought a fresh perspective to the documentary genre. She filmed survivors of the Holocaust who lived in the Warsaw ghetto at the time the footage was taken as they viewed the faux documentary. The genuine horror visible on these survivors’ faces as they relived the atrocities of the Holocaust provided haunting imagery that will not be soon forgotten.

Hersonski also included beautiful shot compositions of film reels, typewriters and an acted-out interview. These brief narrative moments were an original way for the audience to have a chance to breathe after the emotionally heavy footage from Warsaw.

“A Film Unfinished” is just one example of the fine lineup of screenings provided by the Massachusetts Multicultural Film festival. These films allow the viewer to get a sense of the world of global cinema, in contrast to many of Hollywood’s productions. The festival is being run by the University of Massachusetts’ Interdepartmental Program in Film Studies. Every semester, the Massachusetts Multicultural Film Festival is open as both a one-credit course to students and for viewing by the general public. According to the festival’s website, this spring’s theme is “migrations,” as it “highlights interconnections among cinema, migration, war and memory in the context of contemporary cultural and ethno-national landscapes.”

The films screened as part of the festival are both narrative and documentary and come from all over the world. In total, 10 films are screened during the festival, all on Wednesday nights and most in the Flavin Family Auditorium.  

The Multicultural Film Festival provides audiences with the opportunity to see something different from that they have grown accustomed to. Although some of the films showcased may never reach mass audiences, the filmmakers behind these smaller productions are not looking to attract massive crowds. Instead, they are making their films on topics they find important and want their pictures to be seen by those looking for thought-provoking cinema.

In addition, every film offers either an introduction before it is screened to offer insight or a question-and-answer session afterward from the film’s director. This gives viewers a rare opportunity to hear first-hand from filmmakers what went into a given production. 

There is no question these films are not for everyone. They are undeniably slow, sometimes confusing and quiet. This should not suggest that the films are not well made, as they are strong technical and artistic productions. For those looking for something a little different, this festival is the place to be.   

Kevin Romani can be reached at [email protected]