The New York Observer profiles James Moll, who directed John Kerry's convention film, "A Remarkable Promise" :
The Observer notes: "Since 1994, when he was hired by Mr. Spielberg to assemble an archive of interviews with Holocaust survivors, Mr. Moll has found himself producing a number of Holocaust films and documentaries about the Second World War.
'I approached it like I do all my documentaries,' he said of Mr. Kerry's introduction. 'I didn't think of it as a commercial. For the most part, other than those last 15 seconds, I approached like any other documentary. I didn't have to be manipulative.'"
Unfortunately, Moll's track record as a documentary filmmaker is not without question, although he did win an Oscar. When his Holocaust film, "The Last Days" appeared, it was criticized by WWII veterans as misleading and manipulative. I wrote about the controversy in The Idler:
"An interesting letter about Stephen Spielberg’s The Last Days was recently forwarded to me by Mel Rappaport, who as an army captain during World War II participated in the liberation of Buchenwald by the 6th Armored Division in April, 1945, 54 years ago... He sent me an article by Mark Schulte which had appeared in the New York Post about Stephen Spielberg’s documentary 'The Last Days'. Schulte, the son of a WWII veteran who liberated the camps, demanded the film be recalled because it was false history.
"Like 'Liberators', 'The Last Days' did not credit the actual soldiers who liberated Dachau -- the 45th Infantry Division. Instead it featured an interview with a black soldier to create the impression that an all-black unit had opened up the camp. Rappaport told me that the interview subject had been in Le Havre, France at the time, and he had documentation to prove it. Again, Rappaport feared that truth was being distorted to promote a political agenda. As with Liberators, Rappaport and his friends mobilized, writing letters and calling to complain to the producers.
"Like Liberators, this film about the Hungarian Jewish community had been embraced by the Establishment, promoted by Jewish groups, screened for members of Congress and nominated for an Academy Award.
"Unlike Liberators, it won.
"But the problem was the same. The film was not true."
You can read the whole story here.
UPDATE: AN EMAIL FROM MEL RAPPAPORT (received yesterday):
"re this fellow james moll, the --NOT so
great , director . etc ,,, way back when that film by mr Spielberg
...'the last days'-came out, we wrote many letters to him and the
SHOAH group in los angeles calif etc ,,,, and he called all of US
RACISTS and worse. etc . well we got the news paper
''''the FORWARD'' here in N Y C to get invoved and they did write some
editor. letters re this guy MOLL. i even wrote to the fellow in
charge of the ""ACADEMY -in hollywood , etc" re this film winning
that award,,, and he wrote to me,, saying he was SHOCKED,,SHOCKED (like
claude rains in Casablanca with bogie ,,,etc) but that they
can do NADA,.. it was not their job etc ,, i will send you that
letter if i can find it..."
UPDATE: THE FORWARD'S EDITORIAL ABOUT "THE LAST DAYS":
February 26, 1999
The chief historian for Steven Spielberg's Holocaust documentary, "The Last Days," has struck the right note by saying he will look into the question of where one of the film's heroes, Paul Parks, was when he shot the German soldier who spit on him. Mr. Parks, an American G.I. in Germany as the war was brought to an end, told our columnist Beth Pinsker that he thinks the film misportrays the situation by suggesting he shot the Nazi right outside of Dachau when, as Mr. Parks remembers, it was at another time and another place. Other questions about the film's accuracy were raised in an article in the New York Post. The film's historian, Michael Berenbaum, formerly the director of the United States Holocaust Research Institute at the Holocaust Memorial Museum, is a former newspaperman of the school that would like to get things right. His attitude contrasts with that of the director of "The Last Days," James Moll, who at one point in his conversations with our Ms. Pinsker suggested that the only reason Ms. Pinsker, or anyone else, was inquiring on the point was because Mr. Parks is black and his interlocutors are racists. Balderdash. It seems the Holocaust movie business is still smarting over the discovery that a now infamous documentary aired on PBS, "Liberators," was way off base in suggesting that Dachau and Buchenwald were first liberated by African-American units. Nobody is saying that "The Last Days" has any fundamental error of the kind that undergirded "Liberators" and nobody is saying that Mr. Parks is not a war hero. What Ms. Pinsker understands from her days as a film and television critic, though, is that there is a tendency toward romanticism when Hollywood enters the journalism or documentary business. Committed custodians of the memory, like Mr. Berenbaum, understand the need for continuing the effort to get it exactly right.
NOTE: A BOSTON GLOBE INVESTIGATION BACKED RAPPAPORT AGAINST MOLL
"UNTANGLING PAUL PARKS'S TALL TALES\ RECORDS CONTRADICT MORE WARTIME STORIES
Published on October 22, 2000
Author(s): Walter V. Robinson, and Thomas Farragher, Globe Staff
"BERLIN - When Boston civil rights leader Paul Parks receives the Raoul Wallenberg Award here tonight for his 1945 role in liberating the Dachau concentration camp, the applause may be tentative, given fresh evidence that he was nowhere near the Nazi death camp and that his multiple stories about his involvement in the D-day landing were also concocted..."
(There is a charge to download the article from the Boston Globe online archives).
You can listen to reporter Walter Robinson talk about problems with Paul Parks' story in third segment of Here and Now, a WBUR radio program, click on the button to play.
Interestingly, Robinson has published exposes of George W. Bush, historian Joseph Ellis, and Al Gore.