UK Release Date: 16th June 2017
Runtime: 81 minutes
Director: Claire Ferguson
Synopsis: A selection of survivors of the Holocaust tell their stories about living through the Nazi regime and shed light on what it was like to be Jewish and under threat during the persecution and horror of the Second World War’s progress across Europe.
The horrors inflicted by the Nazi regime during the Second World War have proved to be fertile ground for filmmakers, producing moving works of cinema like Schindler’s List and last year’s devastating Son of Saul. Documentary maker Claire Ferguson is the latest to take up the mantle, with Destination Unknown. It’s a moving patchwork of interviews with Holocaust survivors, shedding light on the atrocities of the German regime during the war while focusing on the emotional testimony of those who experienced those terrifying and unspeakable atrocities firsthand.
Destination Unknown forms an often heart-breaking patchwork of distinctly human stories in order to illustrate the lasting impact of the Nazi regime. It paints a shocking picture of life after the concentration camps and there’s a real sense that these people have been through something no human being should ever have to experience. Ferguson wisely holds back the directorial bells and whistles to focus on the people behind the history, producing something that is often compelling in its depiction of both the worst and best that the human race has to offer.
One of the most notable things about Destination Unknown is the unusual way in which it presents its variety of stories. There’s no authoritative narration to tie the interviews together, with the film relying entirely on the words of the survivors. Ferguson has assembled an impressive array of different characters and each has a genuinely compelling story to tell. Unfortunately, the film is often unable to focus on individual interviews for long enough to get a real sense of who they are.
This is never clearer than when it comes to the film’s nominal protagonist Ed Mosberg. He’s a compelling and interesting man with a charisma that allows him to stand apart among many of the other interviewees. In the early stages of Destination Unknown, he is positioned as something of an anchor point for the storytelling, but this isn’t sustained throughout. The array of stories being told in the movie are all interesting, but it feels as if the film should have a clearer through-line.
Ferguson deserves enormous credit, though, for assembling such a selection of heartfelt tales. There are people who spent much of the war in hiding, people who spent years fearing for their lives in concentration camps and more than one person rescued by the benevolent Oskar Schindler himself. Their stories are eye-opening and significant, bringing the human cost of Hitler’s evil to life. Ferguson’s level of access is impressive, with almost every anecdote backed up by historic photos and video footage that must have been very tough to source.
This is a film that crafts a shocking perspective of the extent and variety of evil perpetuated by the Nazi regime. Ferguson pulls together numerous accounts to create a portrait of history that, given the age of many of the participants, may not be capable of being documented in this way for much longer. Destination Unknown is a flawed documentary, but the importance and significance of what it has to say resonates long after the credits roll.
Pop or Poop?
Destination Unknown is an often muddled, but always poignant portrait of the different ways in which surviving the Holocaust has impacted those who were able to get out alive.
Claire Ferguson weaves together the various stories with an impressive attention to detail, but is often hamstrung by having to fit so many different tales into the movie, which leaves some of them all too brief. With a little bit more focus on individual stories, this could’ve been very special indeed.
Destination Unknown is in UK cinemas from June 16. For screening information, visit the film’s website.
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