‘A small victory against erasure’: the three minutes that bring an exterminated Jewish past to life

A new documentary extends 200 seconds of home-movie footage shot in Poland in 1938 into a forensic examination of a community obliterated by the Nazis

Like anyone else, every now and again I come across old photos of family holidays. There are quite a few from the mid-1970s, mostly taken on Bournemouth beach. Obviously, I look at the faces of my parents, now gone, or of me and my sisters – but sometimes I find myself focusing on the other holidaymakers in the background, in their own deckchairs or building their own sandcastles: strangers who, by chance, were caught by our camera and preserved for ever.

There is something of that sensation – the random serendipity of the tourist’s lens – at work in a mesmerising new film called Three Minutes: A Lengthening. It runs for just over an hour, and yet all the images you see come from the same three (or nearly four) minutes of amateur, home-movie footage – those 200-odd seconds of cine film played in full once at the beginning and once again at the end. In between, sequences are played backwards or forwards, sometimes slowed down, sometimes freeze-framed. We zoom out and zoom in. Some frames are magnified to such an extent that what we see is a kind of microscopic blur. The original three-minute film was shot with barely a thought, by an American man on vacation in Europe decades ago, but this new documentary invites us to stare with rare intensity at the people who happened to find themselves in front of his lens.

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