One in a series of seminars presented by The Paley Center for Media in New York (known at the time as The Museum of Television & Radio). This seminar celebrates "Imaginary Witness: Hollywood and the Holocaust," a documentary that examines how Hollywood has dealt with the Holocaust over a sixty-year period, interweaving scenes from movies and newsreels with input from filmmakers, historians, and survivors.

Host Stuart N. Brotman (president, The Paley Center for Media) offers opening remarks before introducing director/producer Daniel Anker, who tells how the film was originally conceived as a 45-minute special. The film is then screened in its entirety. (For synopsis and credits, see ACCNUM T:85759.)

After the screening, moderator Neal Gabler (author and historian) introduces the panelists: Anker; Columbia University film professor Annette Insdorf; director Sidney Lumet; producer/ABC head of programming Martin Starger; and screenwriter Walter Bernstein.

The panelists discuss topics which include: why Hollywood prefers a happy ending for mainstream films, rather than the nature of Holocaust-themed stories; recent polls showing young people's ignorance of the Holocaust; Lumet's decision not to use archival footage of concentration camps in 1964's "The Pawnbroker"; the impossibility of accurately portraying the experience of the camps on film; Anker's family history in the Holocaust and deciding whether to "reduce or amplify" its horrors in his film; whether the events of the Holocaust will be trivialized when there are no more survivors alive; the accuracy of miniseries in realistically portraying human stories due to their dramatic arc and pacing; Lumet's dislike for "sentimental" Holocaust stories; details about the production of Starger's 1987 television film about an escape from the Sobibor concentration camp, "Escape from Sobibor"; the challenges of telling a Holocaust story while appeasing television advertisers; the uncomfortable "This Is Your Life" episode, as seen in the film, in which a concentration camp survivor was reunited with relatives onscreen; the 1978 miniseries "Holocaust" as a "soap opera" that nonetheless led to positive changes in German laws; Bernstein's experience in being blacklisted and his sense that "the writer has no power" in Hollywood without a good director; debate about the word "incomprehensible" in describing the Holocaust; the lack of studio backing for "The Pawnbroker"; the production of "Sophie's Choice" in 1982, which ended up making little money for its studio; how Meryl Streep won out over an unknown European actress for the lead in "Sophie's Choice"; the themes of complicity in French Holocaust films and frequent depictions of stories through children's eyes; the rise in Holocaust-related films in Germany only after the 1978 miniseries; the relative impact of graphic images in Holocaust films; and the evocative black-and-white scheme of 1993's "Schindler's List."

Questions from the audience then lead to a discussion of the following topics among others: Lumet's reaction to critic Pauline Kael's negative response to "The Pawnbroker"; networks' opposition to the airing of "Schindler's List" and other Holocaust films because of nude scenes; Anker's decisions about how much actual footage to show in the documentary; strong reactions to the whimsical 1997 Holocaust-related film "Life Is Beautiful"; accusations about Walt Disney being a Nazi sympathizer; and Anker's inability to get the rights to certain footage for the documentary.


  • DATE: March 17, 2005 6:00 PM
  • RUNNING TIME: 2:38:16
  • COLOR/B&W: Color
  • CATALOG ID: 106697
  • GENRE: Seminars


  • Stuart N. Brotman … Host
  • Neal Gabler … Moderator
  • Daniel Anker … Panelist
  • Walter Bernstein … Panelist
  • Annette Insdorf … Panelist
  • Sidney Lumet … Panelist
  • Martin Starger … Panelist
  • Walt Disney
  • Pauline Kael
  • Meryl Streep