“The film essentially focuses on the trial of a 94-year-old former Nazi named Oskar Gröning, who, seventy years after the Holocaust, was charged with being an accessory to the murder of 300,000 Hungarian Jews at Auschwitz. His job was to collect the victims’ valuables when they arrived at the death camp. Why is this happening so late in the game, and what kind of a message can this send to today’s generation? Using Gröning’s trial as a window, we explore these questions, as well as Germany’s past failures and this newfound race against time to find perpetrators still alive. Hearing from experts across many fields, and following Holocaust survivors who testified at the trial, themes of culpability, revenge, forgiveness and redemption all come into the fold. I want audiences to leave ‘The Accountant of Auschwitz’ with a newly found interest in the subject, as well as ask themselves important questions about our present and future.” Director Matthew Shoychet on THE ACCOUNTANT OF AUSCHWITZ which screens at #HotDocs25.
Great to have you here at HotDocs! Are you going to be attending your screenings?
Yes, all three of them!
Tell me about what you had here before and what your experiences were like in Toronto?
This is my first film in Hot Docs, and it is also my first feature film. I have attended the festival in the past as an audience member.
Tell me more about your process of getting this documentary project together!
In Spring 2015 I attended the March of the Living trip to Poland and Israel as a chaperone for high school students. This trip is taken by 10,000 students every year from over 40 countries around the world. While in Auschwitz, I struck up a conversation with Holocaust survivor Bill Glied. Bill was leaving the group early to travel to Germany to testify at a Nazi trial. My first reaction was, “Like the Adolf Eichmann trial? I didn’t know Nazi trials were even possible anymore.” Fast forward to about a month later: I get a phone call from my friend Ricki Gurwitz, who coincidentally I met two years earlier on another March of the Living trip. Ricki was working as a TV producer, and told me that she just did a whole story on a trial that was happening in Germany for the former “Accountant of Auschwitz.” She explained to me all the unique elements and controversies surrounding the trial. This former Nazi was just a guard, who never killed anyone. He had spoken out against Holocaust deniers, and was speaking at the trial. We combined forces and created a pitch, and started filming as soon as we could. It all took off from there.
How long was your process from beginning to end and did you have any challenges during the filming process?
Just under three years. Main challenge was condensing all this amazing footage and interviews into an 80-minute feature.
How long did post-production take and editing the final product together?
Once we would finish a film shoot, we would transcribe the footage and start scripting sequences and separate the areas that we knew would be of interest. The main editing really began in the Fall of 2016.
Throughout the whole process, what kept you going while making this feature? What drove you? How much coffee are we talking about here?
The story, and the questions raised in the film are just so interesting. But even more so, there is this feeling of a race against time in the film. We will soon be entering a time where Nazi perpetrators and Holocaust survivors will be gone. This has always been a constant push. How important the messages in the film are. Bill Glied, the main survivor in our film, and a good friend, tragically passed away in February. The following month the Accountant of Auschwitz, Oskar Gröning passed away as well. The world is changing all the time, and I really think there are some interesting ideas that relate to exactly what is happening today.
A very technical question, but what kind of cameras and editing equipment did you use to capture this documentary?
Most of the film was shot on the Sony FS7 camera. Keep in mind that there is a lot of archival footage, news and media footage and stock footage as well. Really a puzzle to fit all together and give a consistent, yet elegant look. The film was edited on Adobe Premiere, by editor Ted Husband, a good friend from school.
What excites you the most about presenting this to HotDocs audiences?
The filmmakers are from Toronto. The main survivors and characters in the film are from Toronto. And Hot Docs is the biggest Doc Fest in North America, which happens to be in Toronto. Need I say more?
After the movie shows at HotDocs, where is the movie going next? Are there any other festivals coming up?
We will be sending it to many festivals around the world. Stay tuned. But from June 8 to 14, the film will be playing at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema in Toronto.
How do you feel with the theatrical experience versus streaming debate for documentaries? Are you okay with the movie going to streaming/digital only, or do you strive for the theatrical experience?
I love cinema. I love the cinema. I love popcorn. But I also think every film deserves the widest audience it can get.
What is the one piece of advice you would say to anyone looking into making a documentary short or feature for the first time?
Shoot it all and the story will come.
And finally, what is your all time favorite documentary feature film?
SEARCHING FOR SUGAR MAN!
Visit the documentary online at www.accountantofauschwitz.com!
For more information on the Hot Docs screenings, visit www.hotdocs.ca!