By gathering the stories of Jewish and Gypsy artists imprisoned in Nazi death camps and placing the spotlight on their incredible artworks, director Hilary Helstein's As Seen Through These Eyes distinguishes itself from many other Holocaust documentaries and offers a new perspective on this timeless tragedy. The L.A.-based specialty distributor Menemsha Films, which plans to release As Seen Through These Eyes throughout the fall, will increase its chances at modest crossover business by emphasizing the film as a documentary about art as much as the Holocaust. With positive word of mouth likely and the possibility of news stories on the surviving artists featured in the film, especially Ella Weissberger who performed in a Nazi propaganda production of the children's opera Brundibár in the Theresienstadt camp-ghetto, As Seen Through These Eyes will attract modest theatrical business, although its limited platform will result in box office far less than similar docs Into the Arms of Strangers, Anne Frank Remembered and Paper Clips.
Many of the 11 key interviews make a powerful impact, especially the story of Dina Gottliebova-Babbit, who survived Auschwitz by becoming Dr. Menegele's personal painter and Henry Rosmarin, who survived his imprisonment by playing harmonica for camp guards during meals. As Seen Through These Eyes is by-the-numbers filmmaking with numerous face-the-camera interviews, little artistic experimentation and a modest length. It's hard to imagine how Helstein can offer a new take on the Holocaust but she does thanks to the emotional stories of her brave subjects. Better yet, when the interviews start to slow down the film, Helstein and editors Sean Hubbert and Tanya T. Phipps focus on the sometimes grim but beautiful artwork gathered from Holocaust survivors as well those who perished in the camps. These images, even more so than the interviews of the artists and solid narration by poet Maya Angelou, are the highlights of Helstein's film.
A brief introduction about Adolf Hitler's failed attempts to become a great painter and gain entry into Vienna's Academy of Fine Arts attempt to put the stories of these Holocaust artists in a new perspective. Archival footage including Nazi propaganda films and emphasize the horrors these Holocaust artists faced on a daily basis and, in the case of the Brundibár children, how they were taken advantage of by their Nazi masters.
While As Seen Through These Eyes lacks much visual artistry of its own, Helstein makes good use of the interviewing skills she honed filming segments for Steven Spielberg's Shoah Foundation. Helstein also watches countless films as the Executive Director of the Los Angeles Jewish Festival; so she understands what makes a good story.
It's worth noting that many of the film's interviews occurred years earlier and since that time many of the artists have passed away. Luckily, Helstein has captured their amazing stories and made a movie equal to their legacy.
Director: Hilary Helstein
Producers: Hillary Helstein, Amy Janes and Michael Rosendale
Running time: 70 min.
Release Date: October 2 NY