Roman Vishniac stamped our memories with his iconic images of Jewish life in pre-war Eastern Europe. He captured a world that, only a few years later, would vanish in the Holocaust. But those photographs comprise only one chapter of his remarkable life. Now, for the first time, Vishniac’s life and work will be explored in a feature-length documentary.
From the cosmopolitan streets of pre-war Berlin to the shtetls in Poland and Lithuania to the Princeton offices of Albert Einstein, VISHNIAC takes viewers on a journey, through the lens of one of the foremost photographers of the 20th century.
Roman Vishniac is best known for having traversed Eastern Europe from 1935 through 1938, on assignment for the American Joint Distribution Committee, to photograph Jewish life in Eastern Europe. The purpose of the photographs was to raise funds for impoverished Jewish communities. Few predicted that less than a decade later, these communities would be wiped out, and that Vishniac’s photographs would provide the last visual records of an entire world.
But while Vishniac owes his fame to this specific collection, his prodigious body of work depicts an entire era of Jewish history. Through his work, we see Jewish life – not only in Eastern European shtetls, but also in Weimar-era Berlin. We witness the Nazi rise to power, Jews in visa offices attempting to leave Europe, Zionist training camps and Jewish immigrants in America. After the war, his documentation continues with photographs of Berlin in ruins and Jewish children in Displaced Persons camps.
No less important than his contribution as an artist, Vishniac was an avid scientist, and made considerable contributions in the field of microscopic photography. His “Living Biology” series, funded by the National Science Foundation, were some of the first films depicting life through a microscope. He is credited as one of the founders of this field.
VISHNIAC will explore Vishniac’s career and stunning photographs, bring to life the world in which he worked and detail his dramatic life story and flamboyant personality. The film is directed and produced by Laura Bialis (Refuseniks, Rock in the Red Zone), with executive producer Nancy Spielberg, producer Roberta Grossman and writer Sophie Sartain. Made with the full cooperation of Vishniac’s daughter Mara Vishniac Kohn, VISHNIAC will delve into the person and story “behind the photos. It will explore how Vishniac’s work was intricately tied to his view of the world. Finally, the film will frame Vishniac’s legacy as a key modernist photographer and preserver of memory. Vishniac’s collection, including over 10,000 images, is vast, mysterious, and causes us to step back in time. Through his stunning images, the film will expose new audiences to a lost world that is quickly fading from our grasp.