I recently viewed the film “The Survivor”, and before I realized it I was captivated by the film and its characters. The film starts off with a man on a beach looking out into the ocean. It shoots back to his past and how he and his girl were separated by the Nazi’s. Not much dialogue happens. It’s all told in images and sound. Right there is where something felt familiar, and it was only at the end of the film were my feelings confirmed. The movie felt familiar & the film felt like a Barry Levinson film. As the film progressed we are introduced to the main character Harry Haft. A survivor of Auschwitz who had a brief career as a boxer i the early 50’s. The movie drew me in and the characters came alive for me. The story was based on real events and yet it became a haunting indictment of the guilt a surviver feels on what he had to do to survive & how it haunts him until he faces the demons that prevent him from enjoying life. Levinson is no stranger to character driven films. “Diner“, “Tin Men“, “Rain Man“, “Avalon“, & “Liberty Heights” are all of some of Mr Levinson’s films. To name them all would take most of this article so I’ll just let you wander over to IMDB and look at his credits and hopefully watch a few of his films.
But why did the film “The Survivor” ring familiar to me & why at this point of my life. For the a long time I’ve been trying to write something that was real to me. Something that matters to me. Half based on my dad and half based on his & my own experiences. For some reason Levinson’s film said something to me. Why? Why would a film about a survivor of Auschwitz ring a bit true to me. My father you see served in the German army and surviving the war some how broke him in ways I could not comprehend. My experiences with him and of the stories that came out reluctantly painted a picture that the film “The Survivor” also hit on. Guilt. When faced with a horrific situation you do things that you may not like just in order to survive, and guilt is a haunting and devastating soul crushing thing to come out of. So Levinson hit a nerve that I really never explored. Of course an Auschwitz survivor is someone who has experienced utter horror, yet most human beings who experience such horrors never are the same. They become a bit broken until they put that horror behind them and even then it sometimes rears it’s ugly memories. PTSD, survivors guilt:
“Survivor guilt (or survivor’s guilt; also called survivor syndrome or survivor’s syndrome and survivor disorder or survivor’s disorder) is a mental condition that occurs when a person believes they have done something wrong by surviving a traumatic or tragic event when others could not.” – Wikipedia (survivors Guilt)
There are different types of survivor guilt, including general, parental and survivor guilt with specific incident. General survivor guilt refers to feelings of guilt associated with living and going on after someone else dies or is killed
I’ve been going through old home movies and some recordings that my dad did. Even some old letters he wrote during the war. I’m still wrestling with the different mediums and how to get them into digital form. It was Levinson’s film that made things click with me. Maybe the written word is not a good medium for me to try and write something about my dad. Maybe it was already there in the films and recordings my dad left behind.
There’s always something driving me. A buddy of mine would say “I know you need to do something” & that is right I do. A a creative I need to create, but I’m a victim of not enough time. Movies are my art form that I revel in & yet I never thought I could make something like a documentary about my dad & myself. I did do a video about my mom when she passed. I had filmed her throughout the years and asked questions about her life and dad’s life and that became a short film about her. I had material I could shape such as the interviews and pictures I when over with my mom. Of course my parents are more complex than I realized and I don’t have all the answers on why they did what they did. I may never know. Mostly due to my inexperience of questioning my mom about things that she would not ordinarily talk about I didn’t get as deep as I’d have liked. Through the conversations we had throughout the years and the things that both my mom & dad told me I can only extrapolate their experiences to a certain degree. It’s harder with my dad because of the person he was. So it’s been a deep dive into family history and playing back old memories of my own experiences with my dad & mom. Levinson’s films are character driven. They are very real and that’s what makes them so unique and watchable. It was his film that started a domino effect in my head & suddenly my screenwriting teacher’s phrase came to mind (Nadja Tesich). She would say “it’s in your head”. Meaning the story you want to write is trapped in your head and it’s what you know. Those are always the good stories and the most interesting, so now I’m traversing memory and the films and recordings of my dad and trying to find the story that seems to be calling me, yet the story still alludes me.
Its frustrating to say the least, but nothing worth doing is ever easy. We get ideas from various different inspirations for me its in movies & photography. I’d love to do another narrative film someday soon, but the resources are currently lacking, so I’ll work with what I have. All I know is the more filmmaking I do the better I get at it, and not doing what I’m good at just plainly hurts.
I’ve been silent here on this website for awhile and that’s because life interrupts. Birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, are there to be enjoyed. My father was so haunted by things in his past that he let some good times pass him by. After all enjoy your present and enjoy them with people you love. The film and its history of my families history seems important to me. It something I’d like to share with my boys, and just maybe I can gleam some knowledge about my own existence, and maybe just knock down or push aside some of those ghosts that hold me back.
For me movies are more than just entertainment. It is many things, and I continue to try different techniques in film & be inspired by films like Levinson and Jonas Mekas. There are too many stories to tell, and so much more to learn. I’ll try to be more informative and share my knowledge of filmmaking & its process. I’m not done yet and I’d like to do more.
Thanks you Mr. Levinson for showing me what good cinema looks like and that it can inspire someone like me. I highly suggest seeing Mr. Levinson’s earlier work. He did win an academy award for “Rain Man”, but I really liked “Avalon” a lot & “Liberty Heights” is an instant favorite for me. I am also a big admirer of the TV show “Homicide: Life on the Street”. Mr. Levinson was one of the executive producers for the show. Hopefully till next time maybe I’ll have more to show about the work in progress. Till then keep watching movies and get inspired by whatever inspires you. A good book, a piece of art, a photograph or just a poem, whatever it is don’t let life grind you down. Always be inspired. Till next time….