Saturday, November 14, 2020

DOC NYC Spotlight: The Meaning of Hitler

I’m excited to be covering DOC NYC, America’s largest documentary festival, which presents its eleventh year, this time in a mostly online format, from November 11th-19th.

The Meaning of Hitler
Directed by Petra Epperlein and Michael Tucker
Ticket Information

The infamy achieved by some of the most despicable people in history can outweigh the positive accomplishments of others. To most, it is easy to see a cautionary tale in someone whose influence has been felt and discussed for generations, a threshold which anyone or anything else should never reach. Yet that does not represent the entirety of society, which includes a frightening number that sees dictators and other abusers of human rights as heroes to be celebrated even more because the world does not look upon them favorably for all that they did.

Adolf Hitler is a figure synonymous with evil for many, but this film dives much deeper into his past, his legacy, and what we can learn from comparisons to him. A thorough examination of his childhood and his rise to power exposes many fabrications and exaggerations that contributed to the legend he built for himself, and his mastery of the microphone is attributed as one reason that he was able to command the attention of his audiences. Historians from all around the world look at the lasting effects of his Nazism and the way in which his ideas present themselves in modern-day leaders and white nationalist groups.

There is a concern that comes up over and over throughout this film about the glorification of Hitler that may result from constantly talking about him, feeding into his legacy rather than attempting to extinguish it. There are also many who are reticent to make comparisons to either Hitler or Nazis because they believe that nothing could be as bad and such examples are reductive to the experiences of their victims. This documentary and its subjects are not afraid to do that, emphasizing the importance of flagging signs of similar behavior to prevent the creation and exaltation of another demagogue capable of wielding such power.

Playing at a film festival the week after a presidential election in which the incumbent has refused to accept his very apparent defeat makes this documentary all the more vital and urgent. There are numerous clips of Trump interspersed throughout this film, often presented with no commentary to simply illustrate a point that has been made in examining Hitler’s ascension. The prevalence of white nationalism in America and other places and the way in which it has been allowed to exist without being condemned is also frightening, and this film offers an eye-opening analysis to the cyclical nature of history and the need to be vigilant about the threat of unchecked power.


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