A journalist from London who has been nominated for an Oscar for his first film is almost as honoured to have received praise from his documentary’s subject, an internationally revered movie-maker.
Adam Benzine, 33, took four years to write, produce and direct Claude Lanzmann: Spectres Of The Shoah, which is competing for the documentary short Academy Award at Sunday’s ceremony.
The self-financed film tells the story of French director Lanzmann and his nine-and-a-half-hour magnum opus, Shoah, a Holocaust documentary that took 12 years to create and is widely regarded as one of the greatest pictures ever made.
From Hollywood, Benzine told the Standard: “He can be prickly — and he was. I just thought that he would never like any film about Claude Lanzmann not made by Claude Lanzmann. Anyway, he said he didn’t ‘object’ to the film. And now that it’s been Oscar-nominated, he thinks it’s ‘rather good’, which is unheard-of praise from him.”
Benzine, who grew up in Colliers Wood and studied at Brunel and City universities, moved from Shoreditch to Canada five years ago. He added: “I’ve interviewed thousands of people but Claude Lanzmann was probably the interview of my life. I will be lucky if I ever get another subject as charismatic and as interesting as him.”
He criticised UK television executives, accusing them of presiding over a “crisis” that has led “to an abysmal situation where a first-time British film-maker can self-finance a documentary and get nominated for an Academy Award and still not find a home on British television”.
“I don’t know where people in the UK will be able to see the film,” Benzine said. “To put it in context, HBO bought it in America, CBC, the Canadian equivalent of the BBC, bought it, ARTE bought it for France and ZDF for Germany, we’ve sold it to Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Israel, Holland.
“It’s been sold all over the world — just not to the UK, which is kind of crazy. There doesn’t seem to be a commitment to documentary in this country that has such a rich history of documentary.”
Spectres Of The Shoah details Lanzmann’s extraordinary efforts to get Holocaust survivors to open up about their traumas. It also shows how he went undercover to secretly interview Nazis — one of whom put him in hospital for a month — and how the five-year editing process very nearly led him to suicide.
A lover of feminist intellectual Simone de Beauvoir and friend of philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, Lanzmann spent his teenage years fighting in the French Resistance in the Second World War.
The 90-year-old, whose own documentary was snubbed at the 1986 Oscars, will be attending the event for the first time, as Benzine’s guest, and the film journalist has already spoken to Schindler’s List director Steven Spielberg to arrange for the two to meet before the ceremony.