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Letter from Gabor Boritt


On Being the Subject of a Documentary Film

-Gabor Boritt

You are doing a film about my life and I’m less than enthusiastic. This is why.

First, I don’t think my life is all that interesting. I certainly don’t think it merits a fine filmmaker putting so much work into it. All right, Sandra Day O’Connor tells both of us that you must do this film, Ken Burns seconds it, and so do others whom we both respect. Your grandfather—now there was a hero who fought the Nazis and the Communists and whose story deserves to be told. He used to quote an old Hungarian proverb:“If you are walking down the street and three people separately tell you that you are drunk, then you are drunk.” So I may be wrong. Perhaps there is a good film in the story of the road from Budapest to Gettysburg. Perhaps most any life can be made to speak,provided the filmmaker is talented. So I’ll give you this point. That still leaves me much less than enthusiastic.

I’m not an introspective person. I think well of myself,but thinking too well of oneself,or too much,are questionable enterprises,akin to admiring your belly button. Some of this might pass as humility,but the issue goes well beyond that. People who lead good, happy lives, and live optimistically, they remember the good about their own stories,take strength from the good,and mostly forget the bad. I certainly have lived my life that way. But you want to do history. That requires looking at the full picture, the good, the bad and in between. So you search, prod, examine the scary, the evil, focus in on it. You want us to film in Auschwitz, where my grandfather was murdered. I don’t want to go there even as I recognize that place as my heritage, too. You want us to go where the house I lived in collapsed over me under the Russian bombardment. I want to go to Vietnam,or is it you? Mostly you want,you want,you want an honest film. At times I have been quite angry about this whole idea. When I complained to another professor, a friend,he laughed and said,“You are the healthiest,the best-adjusted person I know. When your son will gets through with you,you’ll be a mess.”

I won’t be, depend on it, but do I want my privacy invaded? Let everyone in on it? The answer is obvious. And if I forget about the scrutiny of others, am I ready to face into my own past? Look at what might have been if as a sixteen-year-old boy I had not escaped from the Communist world? Now there is a scary thought. Am I a confident enough American not to be overwhelmed by the past? We’ll find out, I suppose.

I’ll do this film with you. One does things for a son or daughter that one would do for no one else. Your argument that later generations of Boritts should know, carries weight. I owe it to you then. Also, perhaps O’Connor, Burns and the other distinguished people whom you have recruited as your supporters, know something I don’t know. However it may be, being with you will be the best part. You are very good company.

Yes, I will do the film.