Adrian Cioflâncă • Co-director of The Exit of the Trains
“The film’s long running time is a humble form of respect”
- BERLINALE 2020: The Exit of the Trains, a harrowing documentary essay about the killing of thousands of Jews in 1941, has screened in Forum, and we spoke to one of its co-directors, Adrian Cioflâncă
After being a consultant on Radu Jude’s The Dead Nation [+see also:
film profile] and “I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians” [+see also:
film profile], Romanian historian Adrian Cioflâncă has teamed up with Jude to co-direct the documentary essay The Exit of the Trains [+see also:
interview: Adrian Cioflâncă
film profile], about the victims of the Iaşi pogrom, where thousands of Romanian Jews were executed on 29 June 1941 and the days that followed. Here is what Cioflâncă has to say about the film, premiered in the Forum section of the 70th Berlinale, and negationism in Romanian society.
Cineuropa: How was the project born?
Adrian Cioflâncă: In May 2016, I acquired a €120 album on eBay that contained the portraits of 364 of the victims of the Iaşi pogrom. In June that year, I launched, as a representative of the Romanian Center for the Study of Jewish History, the #numenunumere [#namesnotnumbers] campaign, in which I reconstituted, through archival research, the stories of some of the victims of the pogrom, victims whose portraits could still be found in the National Archives in Iaşi. During that summer, I printed flyers with the victims’ portraits and their personal histories, and handed those flyers out to the inhabitants of Iaşi, a city that has forgotten the tragedy that took place there in the summer of 1941.
At the same time, I started having some serious talks with Radu Jude, whose work I had started to admire after watching Aferim! [+see also:
interview: Radu Jude
film profile]. I’d been hoping to contribute to a film with information about the Iaşi pogrom ever since I watched Gruber’s Journey (2008) by Radu Gabrea, and Radu Jude helped me fulfil that dream.
How did you make the connection between the pictures and the survivors’ statements regarding the deaths?
In order to identify the individuals and the details about their demise, I used a database of thousands of digitised pages from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Romanian National Archives, the Romanian Center for the Study of Jewish History, the National Council for the Study of State Police Archives, Yad Vashem, the Romanian Military Archives and other sources. For each victim, I was looking, as they say, for a needle in a haystack. For some victims, I found only one paragraph in a statement, while for others, I found entire pages. From all this material, Radu Jude made a selection based on his experience as a director and screenwriter.
The film focuses on the victims, seldom identifying the perpetrators, and even then, it’s only by name. Why this choice?
I must say that, initially, we considered including the portraits of the perpetrators and their stories as well. The research unearthed some extraordinary, never-before-seen details. But the result would have been a film of gigantic proportions. Moreover, associating the victims with the perpetrators raised ethical and deontological issues that we were not able to solve in the time we had available.
Was there any discussion regarding the film’s running time of 175 minutes? Is it a form of respect towards the victims?
Yes, it is a humble form of respect. I found information on 200 individuals, and they have all been included in the film. We thought it would have been inappropriate to make a selection. Written history and cinema are supremely selective and oversimplify things. No matter the narrative approach, they focus on certain destinies, unjustly ignoring others. In this case, we preferred an epistemological approach: we talked about all those for whom we had pictures, as cinema is mainly image, and for whom the research had thrown up information. We left out approximately 400 victims for whom we had pictures but no information (some of them were included in the film, however), 3,000 victims for whom we had names and details, but no pictures, and thousands of others for whom we had no pictures, no names and no information.
In your opinion, what are the reasons why Romanian society is so reluctant to recognise the Holocaust?
Anti-Semitism is a fundamental feature of modern Romanian culture. Modernity in Romanian politics is closely related to the “Jewish issue”. Those without fully developed antibodies against anti-Semitism can easily become contaminated by prejudice from the literary classics and the mainstream media before World War II, or even later. These opinions are disseminated in schools, in families, on social networks or by radical entities. After 2004, the introduction of the educational policies recommended by the Wiesel Commission report enabled things to take a turn for the better, but who can overwrite an entire anti-Semitic tradition in such a short time frame? Moreover, anti-Semitism and negationism have always been part of that nightmarish creed of re-founding society that justifies violence, lends value to resentment and promises puristic redemption in the world of today, considered by some to be overrun by crisis, indigence and disorientating diversity.
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