The first question any director of a new film about the Holocaust should ask him- or herself is, “What can I hope to add to the subject that the existent body of works has not?” The Lion of Judah, a 60-minute documentary travelogue that accompanies a tour group from New York City through Europe’s death camps—from Majdanek to Auschwitz to Terezin—finds a nonsolution in proceeding as though it has no precedent. Inasmuch as he selects a single perspective, director Matt Mindell sets out to build his film around the testimonial of the group’s guide, 81-year-old Leo Zisman, a survivor of the Krakow ghetto who regales his audience with stories of his physical bravery. Zisman’s first-person history is supplemented by the reactions of the tour group, while other topics, like the industry of Holocaust tourism and lingering Central European anti-Semitism, are brushed past too briefly to afford any insight. It is an affecting movie—who cannot be affected by the mountains of discarded eyeglasses and shoes and children being dumped by way of slides into mass graves?—but ultimately, The Lion of Judah is no more essential than the sum of its stock footage.
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