Documentary “Natan” Explores the Anti-Semitic Persecution of a French Film Giant – French Film Festival

by Graham Fuller
Published: March 6, 2013
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David Cairns and Paul Duane’s “Natan,” which was premiered at the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival on February 15, promises to be one of the documentary finds of the year. The trailer appears below.

The 66-minute film, which combines archive footage, talking heads, and dramatic imagery, investigates the circumstances under which the pioneering French film mogul Bernard Natan was persecuted and eventually murdered by the Nazis.

In 1929, the Romanian-Jewish Natan (born Natan Tannenzaft in 1886) acquired the huge French film company Pathé and masterminded its vertical integration and involvement in the communications industry. He ushered talkies into France, founded the country’s first television company, and oversaw many key technical innovations. Among the 60 or so films he produced was the epic 280-minute “Les Misérables” of 1934. He gave chances to numerous influential creative figures.

The company went bankrupt in 1935, however, and allegations of fraud led to Natan’s conviction and imprisonment in 1939. (“Natan” incorporates the appalling footage of Natan being filmed against his wishes in court.) When he was released in September 1942, the authorities renounced his French citizenship, despite his having fought for France as a volunteer during World War I. He was handed over to the Nazis and deported to Auschwitz, where he died probably in early 1943.

Like other Jewish people prominent in the arts, Natan had been the victim of the vicious anti-Semitic propaganda that was rampant in the 1930s. (Though Natan was married with two children, he was also the target of homophobic slurs in the press.) He had dabbled in filmed erotica in 1909, but the long-held belief that he produced and acted in hardcore bisexual pornography has been disputed.

In recent times, the film historians of Les independants du premier siècle have ridiculed the claims put forward by Dr. Joseph Slade in The Journal of Film and Video (Summer-Fall, 1993) that Natan was a pornographer. Such claims were also greeted with skepticism by Cairns and Duane, whose film explores how the reputation of a far-seeing film industry leader was destroyed and his vital contribution erased from the history books.

Mh – New York Jewish Guide.com

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