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Since his capture, extradition, and trial in Israel in 1961, there has been no shortage of attempts to plumb the dank, dismal mystery of Adolf Eichmann, the phlegmatic bureaucrat who served as chief logistician for the Third Reich’s byzantine Final Solution to the Jewish Problem. From Eichmann in Jerusalem, Hannah Arendt’s classic and controversial account of “the banality of evil,” to Robert Young’s EICHMANN (2007), which may have taken banality too much to heart as its guiding imperative, the case’s vexed questions regarding the attribution of ethical responsibility — most saliently, the extent to which institutional pressures (including terror) trump individual initiative — have provoked often polarizing responses.

Eyal Sivan is an Israeli-born, Paris-based documentary filmmaker who has provoked his own share (fair or otherwise) of polarizing responses over the course of an almost thirty-year career. Reviled by Israeli conservatives for his work contesting the state-sanctioned narrative of the Arab-Israeli conflict, Sivan has long professed an admiration for Hannah Arendt’s analysis of Eichmann, and tonight’s film, THE SPECIALIST, was directly inspired by her iconic study.

Its materials, however, come from another source — hundreds of hours of footage of the Eichmann trial shot by Leo Hurwitz, an American documentarist, eventually blacklisted, who went on to make his own short film about the subject (VERDICT FOR TOMORROW, 1961). Given the vast swaths of footage available for manipulation — and let’s face it, wrangling a morass like that into a two-hour running time necessarily entails some manipulation — it isn’t surprising that the end result functions both as an argument about Eichmann (one that lines up pretty precisely with Arendt’s depiction of him as a technically competent non-entity) and, somewhat self-negatingly, as a demonstration of the objective unreliability of its own medium.

Some have cried foul — most prominently the Steven Spielberg Jewish Film Archive, which owns copies of the original tapes, and claims Sivan’s edits radically misrepresent the trial as it actually unfolded. But whatever the validity of such criticisms, this is a film that needs to be seen, both for the questions it attempts to address and for the many others it raises, deliberately and less so. What’s more, tonight you can put your questions to the director himself. Have fun!

See the trailer here!

3/14 – 7PM
$12 Special Event Tickets

Harvard Film Archive
24 Quincy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138

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