Claire Ferguson’s powerful documentary Destination Unknown takes us back to the holocaust through the eyes of those that faced it first hand. Martin Carr takes a look at this unforgettable film.
Films like this should be part of the syllabus, watched once and remembered for a lifetime. Human atrocities committed by others against minorities continue happening on a daily basis, yet some retain more resonance over time than others. That makes no one act more or less important, because each is appalling, but when those acts define a nation, come with powerful symbolism and almost wipe a cultural belief from the earth it becomes something else. So it was with the Nazi party, Adolph Hitler and the systematic eradication, enslavement and persecution of Jews as a faith and people. Something Destination Unknown examines in detail.
Uncomfortable, upsetting and stomach churning in some instances, director Claire Ferguson and writer Jonathan Key have fashioned an interweaving personal account of the Holocaust from heart breaking testimonials. By splitting the documentary up between different people we are given an insight into life within these concentration camps that is both harrowing and deeply personal. From capture through internment to liberation, Ferguson uses face to face interviews, stock footage of family members as well as liberation day cine film shot by Russian and American troops.
Reference is made to Oskar Schindler and his life-saving list which Hollywood has already made famous and remains on the GCSE syllabus. Auschwitz, Plaszow and Treblinka are name-checked and staggering numbers totalling up to two million are referenced visually within the film. Survivors travel with partners or alone followed by a film crew as they tell their stories, shed their tears and remind others how lucky they are. For the most part Destination Unknown merely documents these people and their stories, but at certain points Ferguson veers into full-on history mode giving us information some might not wish to hear.
For a majority of the film however her emphasis remains on those who still suffer from vivid nightmares and a sense of despair combined with the desire to commit suicide. Visions of dead family members, feelings of inescapable guilt and inconsolable grief are a daily reality. What becomes apparent with Destination Unknown however is how potent the Holocaust and concentration camps still are as a singular act of inhumanity to man. That most of the places are museum pieces, historical landmarks and tourist attractions is on the one hand horrendous for those still living, but adversely very much a sign of the times. What Claire Ferguson seeks to achieve with this film in my opinion is an education for a new generation.
Bodies piled high in train cars, talk of babies being stockpiled in mass graves and random shootings over breakfast are all designed to cold shock docile masses into a state of awareness. For the most part this brutally honest, unrelentingly harrowing historical document achieves just that.
Written by Martin Carr
Directed by: Claire Ferguson
Written by: Jonathan Key
Released: 2017 / Genre: Documentary
Country: UK, Austria, Poland, USA / IMDB
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Destination Unknown is in UK cinemas from June 16.