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A Director Responds: "So Unbalanced, Unfair and So Incorrect"

Here is film director Richard Trank's response to my review of "I Have Never Forgotten: The Life & Legacy of Simon Wiesenthal," which appears in today's Post and immediately below here on the big blog. The director's letter is posted here with his permission.

Dear Mr. Fisher,

I never make it a point to write to the critics who review my films. But your review is so unbalanced, unfair, and so incorrect that I cannot simply ignore it. Did you actually watch our film? If you did, then how can you say that an emphasis on Hollywood and the Simon Wiesenthal Center in the film left "left no time to show that Wiesenthal did far more than find old Nazis"?

Early in the film, in an interview with Manus Diamant, a survivor, we illustrate how Simon was opposed to the idea of vengeance and stopped Diamant from drowning Adolf Eichman's children when he had the opportunity. We interviewed his biographer, Hella Pick, who pointed out how Wiesenthal strived to create a historical record of the Holocaust to prove to future generations that it did happen and to stress the important of bringing war criminals to justice so that similar crimes might not happen in the future. Several interviewees discuss Wiesenthal's opposition to the idea of "collective guilt" being applied to a generation of Germans born after the war. One of the most dramatic and horrifying moments of the film comes when an Auschwitz survivor describes what he witnessed Josef Mengele doing to children. Other Holocaust survivors give first hand accounts of the crimes of Hermine Braunsteiner (yet you falsely state that the audience never gets the opportunity to hear from Holocaust survivors--again what film were you watching?)

We point out that Wiesenthal was one of the first Jewish activists to discuss what happened to Hitler's other victims: gays, Communists and gypsies. Obviously you have some knowledge about the Schwammberger case. But you neglect to mention in your review how we show in depth how Wiesenthal brought Karl Silberbauer (who arrested Anne Frank and her family), Franz Stangl (the commandant of Treblinka), Gustav Wagner (Stangl's assistant and the commandant of Sobibor), Hermine Braunsteiner (whose case led to the creation of the Office of Special Investigations of Nazi War Criminals at the US Justice Department) to justice.

Our film features the first and only on camera interview with his daughter, Pauline, who discusses how difficult it was to grow up in Linz as the child of Holocaust survivors and the daughter of a "Nazi hunter", another fact you find unimportant to mention. Peter Michael Lingens, one of Austria's most respected magazine publishers and one of Wiesenthal's first assistants in the early 60's discusses in depth exactly what you state we never mention: "the Germans and Austrians who blamed Wiesenthal for saddling them with the burden of their father's and grandfather's crimes." You also neglect to report that the film also dramatically and emotionally shows how a younger generation of Austrians came to revere Wiesenthal as a folk hero.

Instead, you have focused on approximately 30 seconds which feature Frank Sinatra and Liz Taylor that we used as an example to show how well known Simon became in the 1980's. The interview with Ben Kingsley that you refer to is also a small segment that illustrates how his memoirs were turned into a docudrama. You have also given a false impression about how we portray the Simon Wiesenthal Center in the film. It represents a tiny portion of screen time.

You cannot tell the story of Simon Wiesenthal without bringing up the Wiesenthal Center, which he viewed as his living legacy. Other films about Wiesenthal produced by the BBC and several independent producers have spent more time than we did on the Center and its founder Marvin Hier. We even went a step further to show how there were moments when Wiesenthal and the Center disagreed (the Waldheim case and Wiesenthal's opposition to putting the Austrian President on the US Nazi Watch List).

One who reads your review is given a totally false impression of what our film is about and, for that reason, you have done the readership of the Washington Post a great disservice. I don't know if you have some sort of ax to grind but you are clearly in the minority. The film has sold out screenings at the Berlin, Tribeca and Seattle Film Festivals. In Berlin, over 700 people gave it a standing ovation that lasted for more than 5 minutes. It was one of the top 10 films for the audience award at the Tribeca Film Festival. It has been held over in theatres in New York for the past 3 weeks. Reviewers at Variety, the Hollywood Reporter, Newsday, Film Journal, The New Republic, The Christian Science Monitor, Entertainment Weekly, Screen International, just to a name a few, have lauded the film for its filmmaking, balance and the way in which it has revealed previously unknown aspects of Wiesenthal's life.

I don't mind criticism: after all, the NY Times critic disagreed with certain aspects of our approach. What I do mind is unfair and uninformed criticism which is what your review was. You have been dishonest with your readers and nothing is more harmful to journalistic integrity. Obviously little can now be done about the travesty of this particular review. But I hope in the future that you do a better job when it comes to other people's work. You owe your readers more.

Richard Trank
Writer/Director
"I Have Never Forgotten You"

By Marc Fisher |  June 8, 2007; 6:10 PM ET
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Comments

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This ranting has made me seasick. For a few moments, I thought I was floating on a pond of ......

Posted by: Deeper Critic | June 8, 2007 9:52 PM

Leave the Fish alone. Don't you realize that there's an official WaPo policy to avoid liking any item of art or media?

Posted by: critique critic | June 9, 2007 3:51 PM

I agree with the first post. Trank's rambling makes me want to reach for the Pepto Bismol.

Posted by: burbs | June 9, 2007 5:39 PM

Mr. Trank - we have the Holocaust Museum here - I'm sure Marc's been to it, probably more than once. I'm equally sure he watched your movie, and based on his review, in a sensitive and fair way. His review to me was even-handed while your response above was way overboard (to continue the seasick metaphor). You need to understand that when you respond this way you just strengthen Marc's points.

Posted by: Rob Iola | June 12, 2007 11:46 AM

"His review to me was even-handed while your response above was way overboard (to continue the seasick metaphor). You need to understand that when you respond this way you just strengthen Marc's points."

Honestly I read both the review and the response to the review and I don't see how this comment makes any sense at all. The reply points out numerous inaccuracies, if not outright errors, in the claims that Fisher makes at the end of his review. It addresses and refutes them directly. What I see here is an attempt at a glib denial of that. Nothing more.

Still the reply commits a fundamental error. That of taking ones' critics seriously in the first place, and then writing such a long response to their criticism while claiming that "little if anything can be done to undo such damage to the reputation of the film". Why would the responder even talk about its success, if that is the attitude that he wishes to take about this particular bit of criticism? It is like after all this work in making the film and promoting it and indeed defending it from at least one critic, he finally loses his wits and is reduced to senseless whining, his constructive forces spent.

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