I tended to agree with Daniel, at first: it is plausible, indeed, that the German officials just realized that little good propaganda could be made from such horrifying images, and decided to abandon the project. But I hardly believe so. To whom, in fact, are those images horrifying?
At the end of the war (as we could see right at the trailer of Nuremberg), even high-ranked German officials pledged to ignore the extents of the horrors perpetrated by the Nazi regime. They would say whatever to defend themselves, of course, but to me it is a little more complicated than that. Generally, people are very unlikely to change their opinions. We will use pictures in order to confirm whatever we already believe (and dismiss as being forged or staged any evidence that contradicts our beliefs). The meaning of images is relative, needless to say. What is horrifying for us (who are us?) today could as well be perceived as an unmistakably proof of Jews’ inadequacy and greed for an audience back then. (Holocaust itself is still seen as a huge Jewish conspiracy by some.)
A recurrent motif behind films regarding the holocaust is: “let us never forget, so it is not repeated”. I don’t think this is quite the case. To merely provoke empathy for the victims doesn’t seem be the point, either. This is not a film about the ghetto itself; it is a film about a film. Thus, the author’s argument must be, first of all, one about the nature of representation of suffering.
From where I sit, the German filmmaker is the key character in this matter. What struck me the most about the movie was not the barbaric footage itself, but the relation the cinematographer – who doesn’t seem barbaric himself – appears to have established with its capturing. Often he wouldn’t even remember having made some hideous (from the victims points of view) takes, although he would easily recollect some minor technical difficulties with the light or the equipment. Filming was his duty, and he would perform it to his best. From his point of view, the repeating take after take of some staged scene with starving human beings as actors was not monstrous, evil, atrocious; it was diligent. As some officials stated at the Nuremberg trials, he was just doing his job.
The author’s argument becomes clearer when one finds out that the interview itself was staged, based on the cinematographer’s statement collected back in the sixties, supposedly at his trial. The German “filmmaker” we see is actually an actor whose role in the movie points to the director’s central concern: the actual filmmaker’s role in the original Nazi footage.
After all, A Film Unfinished seemed to be a pretty appropriate choice for a title, as if such a story could never build up to proper closure, as infinite are the horrors perpetrated by men throughout history.