His nine-and-a-half hour long film on the Holocaust is considered one of documentary's greatest achievements
Director Claude Lanzmann, whose film Shoah documented the reality of the Holocaust in chilling detail, has died in Paris at the age of 92.
Lanzmann's publisher, Gallimard, confirmed he died Thursday at the Saint-Antoine Hospital in the French capital.
The Cannes Film Festival, where Lanzmann unveiled his documentary Napalm just last year, tweeted, "Farewell and thanks to Claude Lanzmann for his masterly work, which has never ceased to stir memories and consciences."
“Claude Lanzmann was one of the great documentarists," Dieter Kosslick, director of the Berlin Film Festival, said in a statement obtained by Nonfictionfilm.com. "With his depictions of inhumanity and violence, of anti-Semitism and its consequences, he created a new kind of cinematic and ethical exploration."
Filmmaker Adam Benzine, who directed the Oscar-nominated short documentary Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah, tweeted, "It is no overstatement to say that Mr. Lanzmann's 1985 masterpiece SHOAH dramatically changed the world's understanding of the Holocaust."
Lanzmann began work on Shoah in 1973; the monumental project would not be completed until 1985. Part of what made the film so unique among Holocaust documentaries was that it did not make use of any archival images of Nazi death camps or war footage. Instead, he interviewed people complicit in running the camps, sometimes using a hidden camera and/or concealed audio recording devices. He also interviewed Holocaust survivors and Poles who lived in the environs of the Auschwitz concentration camp, many who initially feigned lack of knowledge of the mass killing that had transpired around them.
"A relentless interviewer, he used whatever it took — filming surreptitiously, posing as a French historian trying 'to set the record straight' — to pry astonishing stories out of his subjects," the New York Times noted in its obituary.
Related: Oscar-nominated filmmaker Adam Benzine on his encounter with Claude Lanzmann: 'He was exactly as I’d hoped he’d be — lucid, poetic, interesting, eloquent, thoughtful and not nearly as difficult as he can be.'
Lanzmann continued to work until the end of his life, sometimes making films constructed from unused material recorded for Shoah. His 2013 film Le Dernier des Injustes (The Last of the Unjust) focused on a rabbi who served on the governing board of the Nazis' "show camp" at Theresienstadt. This year he released the film Shoah: Les Quatre Soeurs about four women who survived the Holocaust.
IN 2017 Nonfictionfilm.com was privileged to attend the world premiere of Lanzmann's documentary Napalm at the Cannes Film Festival, which recounts three visits Lanzmann made over a period of decades to North Korea. The unorthodox film includes a lengthy anecdote about his trip there in 1958 when he and a North Korean nurse sent to treat him for a malady became infatuated with each other, despite having no language in common. The story was told in narrative form in Lanzmann's compelling autobiography, Le lièvre de Patagonie, published in 2009.
The autobiography also recounted Lanzmann's work in the French Resistance during World War II and his relationships with Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir -- his love affair with de Beauvoir would last nine years.
Lanzmann was known as an intimidating figure with a supreme intellect and firm political beliefs. Benzine, a longtime journalist, spent a week interviewing him for his Oscar-nominated short, describing the encounter as the most memorable interview of his career.
Benzine told Nonfictionfilm.com in 2016, "He was exactly as I’d hoped he’d be — lucid, poetic, interesting, eloquent, thoughtful and not nearly as difficult as he can be."
Matthew Carey is a documentary filmmaker and journalist. His work has appeared on Deadline.com, CNN, CNN.com, TheWrap.com, NBCNews.com and in Documentary magazine.