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Adding colour to the Holocaust horror; Terry Grimley previews a documentary spun around a spectacular photographic find.

The three-part series The Second World War in Colour, launched on ITV on Thursday, should offer a fascinating perspective on a conflict normally thought of as having been fought in black and white.

It draws on a total of 600 hours of colour footage identified in archives around the world, and the only slight feeling of unease I have about this otherwise laudable project is a suspicion that it is at least partly aimed at a generation which allegedly cannot relate at all to black and white - hence the recent frame-by-frame remake of Hitchcock's Psycho.

But before this, tomorrow's World War Two Night on BBC2 brings another story about colour archive images, featured in what is an exceptional piece of film-making in its own right.

Photographer, which introduces a new series of the international documentary series Storyville, is based on the discovery in a Viennese antique shop in 1987 of a collection of 600 early 35mm colour slides of the Jewish ghetto in the Polish city of Lodz.

They were taken by Walter Genewein, the Austrian chief accountant of the ghetto and a representative of the kind of jobsworth without whom the Third Reich would have ground to a halt within days. He used a confiscated camera and a supply of film blagged from Agfa on the grounds that colour "would better demonstrate our achievements in the ghetto".

This Polish film, directed by Dariusz Jablonski, takes the form of a meditation on the ghetto and Genewein's images of it, seen through the eyes of Arnold Mostowicz. Formerly a doctor in the ghetto, he explains the context of the pictures while explaining that he cannot relate these images to his own memories.

It is a curiously disturbing film. The photographs themselves do not contain anything horrific, but we impose horror on them through our knowledge of these people's fate.

At many points in the film Genewein's street scenes are faded into contemporary views of the same locations, an effect made all the more unsettling by the fact that the usual convention is reversed, with the past in colour and the present in black and white.

While the prospects for 320,000 Jews grew steadily bleaker, to the point where they were required to surrender most of their children to the Germans, Genewein wrote testy letters to Agfa asking why his slides were coming back with a reddish-brown cast.

Genewein was picked up but quickly put down again by the war crimes procedures after the war. He died in the 1970s, a well-respected citizen.

"The history of the film is quite interesting," Nick Fraser, Storyville series producer, said. "Jablonski is basically a producer and raised money around Europe to make it, then brought in someone else to make it. Then, because he hated what the other guy had done with it, he threw it away and and did it himself, using his own money.

"I guess that what interested him was the ethics of photography. You don't expect to see a film about the ethics of photography linked to the Holocaust."

Photographer is representative of the kind of quality documentary film from around the world featured in Storyville. It was bought complete, but often the BBC is a co-funder at the outset of a project, or comes on board when a film is under way. This division of funding enables the BBC to pick up quality work at a reasonable cost.

"It's a way of illustrating the fantastic documentaries being made around the world," Nick Fraser said. "There's an international community of about 40 film makers and they all communicate by e-mail, and I'm the only commissioning editor in Britain who keeps up with that. It's the journalistic equivalent of having the top 40 journalists in the world and being able to buy their work and put it in New Yorker or some other magazine."

Subjects covered during the season range from a mixed-race marriage in America to the Srebrenica Massacre, and there is a film by Werner Herzog - one of the few major film makers to divide his career between feature films and documentaries - about his love/hate relationship with eccentric actor Klaus Kinski, including plans the actor and director allegedly made to murder each other.

Storyville: Photographer is on BBC2 tomorrow night at 10.45pm.
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Author:Grimley, Terry
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Sep 3, 1999
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