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Camerimage: An Artist Preserves Memories of the Holocaust in ‘Drawing Against Oblivion’

BYDGOSZCZ, Poland — As the Holocaust slowly recedes from memory, so too have the films about it shifted their focus.

This year, Laszlo Nemes’ Cannes Grand Prix winner “Son of Saul” follows a concentration camp trustie who seeks a rabbi to give his son a proper burial in secret. And the documentary “Drawing Against Oblivion,” which screened here at Camerimage, also puts children at its center, tracing the career of Austrian artist Manfred Bockelmann as he tries to capture, in charcoal drawings, the faces of children who perished in the death camps.

Bockelmann was born in 1943 at the height of the Hitler’s roundup of the Jews. The son of privileged parents who, to their subsequent regret, ended up joining the Nazi party, he travels to Auschwitz in his late career, and to Stockton University in New Jersey, which contains an archive of faded photos of Jewish kids who were killed in the camps.

Using his unique methods, Bockelmann transforms these small pictures into large black-and-white images that seize the essence of each murdered child. In some cases, elderly surviving relatives of those children are shown the photos, which poignantly transport them to a painful past.

In making the doc, producer David Kunac and director Barbel Jacks faced the challenge of persuading those Holocaust survivors to recall their experiences. “I told them if these stories don’t get told, they will be forgotten,” said Kunac.

“We did the film for a younger generation,” said Jacks. “Older people know about (the Holocaust).”

Cinematographer Tobias Corts shot the film mostly with the Canon C300, and some scenes using the Canon EOS 5D.

“Drawing Against Oblivion” will have its U.S. premiere at the San Diego Jewish Film Festival in February, 2016.

Pictured above: Holocaust survivor Murray Kohn, left, with the artist Manfred Bockelmann

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