Early in Forbidden Films, Felix Moeller’s new documentary about banned Nazi propaganda films, you might begin to suspect that Joseph Goebbels, minister of propaganda for the National Socialist Party, prophesied the rise of YouTube: “Film,” said Goebbels — in 1942 — “is the educational tool for teaching our young people.”
Until now, most of these banned films — only 40 of them surveyed here, out of thousands produced during the Nazi regime — have been available on YouTube and less reputable places, but only recently have curated public screenings become available. This means that, since 1945, the majority viewership for these inflammatory films has been neo-Nazis and others interested in perpetuating violent legacies of eugenics, anti-Semitism, etc. But the great strength of Moeller’s film is its measured calm — despite which it never grows dull. Keen and thoughtful, it’s utterly unlike the gauche pageantry — think bewigged Aryan nobility in nineteenth-century ballrooms, hook-nosed Jews drawing maps of global domination in the shape of David’s star — that marks many of the Nazi films (though others are unsettlingly subtle and beautifully shot).
Rather, Moeller sits with film scholars and critics, ex-skinheads, officials from the German Federal Film Board, and audiences of teens and adults in France, Germany, and Israel, and asks them what they see in the films, and whether they pose a threat. A French teenager is insightful about the discrepancy of danger between cultures, suspecting that the films could do more damage in her own country, which hasn’t dealt as honestly with its history, than in Germany, where Nazi history is part of popular conversation. A German film scholar believes that honest dialogue necessitates trust and openness. But a middle-aged German man declares, after a screening of an anti-Polish film, that more people should know that Poland actually provoked World War II. They were asking for it!
In our age of viral video, it’s hard to imagine that a film would — or could — be banned. We hope for videos to go viral, forgetting that a virus can kill us. This fascinating, urgent doc forces us to ask whether quarantine is any kind of cure.
From Film Forum: Free tickets available on a first come, first served basis, day of show only, when the box office opens at noon (10:30 a.m. on Sunday). There is no advanced ticketing for this film.