One of this year’s Mendocino Film Festival selections, “Three Minutes: A Lengthening,” is a memorial to lives long gone and an interesting approach to film making. Director Bianca Stigter takes a three-minute reel of faded 16mm color home movie footage shot in 1938 in the Jewish quarter of Nasielsk, Poland, and looks at it very closely. She identifies the people in it, and explores the Jewish neighborhood and details of daily life there that often get neglected in historical accounts.
The Kelley House Museum is sponsoring the film, made from a reel Glenn Kurtz found in a dented canister in the corner of his parents’ closet in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, in 2009. Florida’s heat and humidity had nearly solidified the celluloid into something “like a hockey puck,” according to Kurtz, but someone had transferred part of it onto VHS tape in the 1980s. From that, Kurtz was able to determine that his grandfather, David Kurtz, had taken it on a 1938 visit to Europe.
He discovered that the footage depicted Nasielsk, his grandfather’s birthplace, a town about 30 miles northwest of Warsaw where 3,000 Jews lived before the war. David had immigrated to the United States as a child and died before Glenn was born. Kurtz understood the value of the three-minute tape as an account of Jewish life in Poland just before the Holocaust.
The National Holocaust Memorial Museum was able to restore and digitize the film, and it posted the footage on its website. Stigter stumbled across it on Facebook in 2014. She edited the footage in different ways to illuminate Jewish life in Nasielsk. There are no on-camera interviews, only the voices of people who were there, or who know people who were there, or who know about Poland in the 1930s, particularly about the Jewish experience. The footage is slowed down, freeze-framed, or zoomed in on as a commentator talks about a particular face in a crowd. The 70-minute film starts and ends with the same three-minutes, but the viewer sees and understands so much more in the second viewing.
The film screens once, June 3rd, at 10:00 am at Matheson Performing Arts Center in Mendocino. Kelley House representatives will be on hand to give a short introduction and discuss the importance of preserving various artifacts of our history. Do you have any old film canisters in your closet??
Purchase Film Festival tickets on their web page (MendoFilm.org) or at the festival office in Mendocino at 45062 Ukiah Street. More details can be found online or on Facebook.
The Kelley House Museum is open from 11AM to 3PM Thursday through Monday. If you have a question for the curator, reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org to make an appointment. Walking tours of the historic district depart from the Kelley House regularly.