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Two Holocaust themed films at Boulder film festival

Boulder  One of Marian Kolodziej’s drawings featured in the documentary, ‘The Labyrinth.’FOR more than 50 years, Marian Kolodziej never spoke publicly of the suffering he witnessed as a teenager. His aging artist’s hand never expressed the painful emotions he tried so hard to suppress.

But after suffering a major stroke in 1993, Kolodziej, then 71, began drawing images in an attempt to facilitate his recovery.

The result, more than 300 pen and pencil drawings depicting his five years in Auschwitz and other Nazi concentration camps, are captured in the documentary, “The Labyrinth,” which is being shown Feb. 19 at the Boulder International Film Festival.

Kolodziej continued drawing until a few months before his death on Oct. 13, 2009.

“That sense of duty awakened after all those years,” says Kolodziej through the film’s narrator. “Of my own free will, I shut myself in the camp once more.”

Since its August, 2010, debut, the 37-minute documentary short has traveled the film festival circuit, most notably as an official selection at the 2010 International Documentary Association’s DocuWeeks Theatrical Documentary Showcase in Los Angeles.

Filmmaker Jason A. Schmidt, 36, who wrote, directed, edited and produced “The Labyrinth,” said his crew painstakingly filmed and photographed each of Kolodziej’s more than 300 art pieces, located in a permanent exhibit in the basement of the church at the St. Maximilian Kolbe Franciscan Center in Harmeze, Poland, 10 kilometers from Auschwitz.

“When I got to the end (of touring the exhibit with Kolodziej), I had a sense of hope and of the perseverance of the human spirit,”  Jason Schmidt said. “I wanted people to experience what I did.”

Kolodziej was not Jewish; he was a Polish Catholic resistance fighter, who was arrested by the Nazis in 1940.

Only 17 when sent on the first transport to the then new concentration camp of Auschwitz, Kolodziej was prisoner #432, and survived more than five years of starvation and hard labor. He was a prisoner in Gross-Rosen, Buchenwald, Sachsenhausen and Mauthausen-Gusen.

After he was liberated, he returned to Poland, attended college, married, and became one of Poland’s most renowned theater set designers.

“THE Labyrinth’s” producer, Ron Schmidt, 67, who is the director’s father, a Jesuit priest and an award-winning international documentary filmmaker, first met Kolodziej when his son came to Auschwitz to produce a documentary about the annual interfaith retreat held there.

After the younger Schmidt saw the Labyrinth footage that his father brought home, Jason Schmidt immediately knew Kolodziej’s story needed to be told, he said.

“We feel very obligated to get his story out,” Ron Schmidt said. “That was a mission we were given by him — to let the world know.”

The documentary features haunting music by Polish composer Marek Zebrowski, who lives in Los Angeles, and the story is told by the voice of actor Roman S. Czarny, in Kolodziej’s words from the introduction to a book of his drawings, from the crew’s on-camera interviews and the testimony that he provided the Auschwitz museum.

Ironically, Kolodziej did not want to be in the film and he didn’t want his voice used. Throughout the film he is only seen briefly while drawing. Instead he wanted to pay homage “to his fellow inmates, burnt to ashes.”

“He was a very humble person,” Jason Schmidt said. “This wasn’t about him.”

KATHY Beeck, director and co-founder of the Boulder International Film Festival, said the festival reviews more than 1,000 films and only chooses 50.

“The Labyrinth” was chosen because of the “untraditional way it told a very moving and powerful story through narration and art,” she said.

“The stories he [Kolodziej] told were not traditional stories for the Holocaust,” Beeck said.

“Taking trivial, mundane subjects — the bowl story [about the bowls that held the prisoners’ food, caught the rain and served as their wash bowls] — is something that moved me. The use of those trivial objects told me more about his life than anything could have.”

Jason Schmidt said the filming of the exhibit took eight days because of the vast number of art pieces, which varied in size from 2 inches by 4 inches to 9 feet by 20 feet.

Many of the larger pieces of art were drawn in sections and later pieced together.

One of the biggest challenges was the lighting. Some areas contained spot lights that needed to be hidden because they were too bright for the cameras.

Also, Schmidt wanted to preserve the atmosphere from the bare bulbs that hung in the exhibit, but sometimes needed to add light so the art could be seen.

Over the two times they shot footage in 2007 and 2008, the same shot changed because Kolodziej was continuously adding new pieces.

Jason Schmidt said his camera movements mimicked how Kolodziej traveled through the exhibit, which itself is a labyrinth.

Inside the exhibit, every word, every piece of barbed wire, every stone was deliberate, in how and where Kolodziej placed them.

KOLODZIEJ did not live to see the final film, but did view some of the footage, and what he saw he liked, Jason Schmidt said.

“He told the interpreter he wanted to be a painter and for the first time he felt like one,” Jason Schmidt said.

“Maybe it was the way I covered a canvas [with the camera] ?. . .  almost like with a paint brush.”

Father and son first chose the stories they wanted to feature based on how much Kolodziej spoke about them and how much the stories resonated with the filmmakers.

They then examined all the drawings related to that story and selected specific drawings for each story.

One of those was the story about the bowls, used for soup, washing, catching water and as a pillow at night.

Kolodziej had hoped that the drawings were going to free him from the horrors of Auschwitz, Jason Schmidt said.

One of his drawings shows Kolodziej as an old man beating a drum, singing “Hurray, hurray, I am back again,” the same song an  escaped prisoner who was recaptured was forced to recite.

That drawing was Kolodziej’s confession that the drawings would never set him free.

“I am always going to be trapped in Auschwitz,” he told the filmmakers, tears streaming down his face.

“I’ll never be free.”

“The Labyrinth,” with an introduction by Boulder resident and Holocaust survivor, Walter Plywaski, will be shown Feb. 19 at the Boulder Public Library as part of the Boulder International Film Festival.

“Sarah’s Key,” starring Kristin Scott Thomas, a feature film also with a Holocaust theme, will be shown Feb. 19 at the Boulder Theatre.

Copyright © 2011 by the Intermountain Jewish News

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