section Documentary Film Competition


  • Laura Bialis
  • US
  • 2023
  • 95

Between the roaring twenties and the shtetl of Eastern Europe: the images of Russian-American photographer Roman Vishniac continue to shape the way we imagine East European Jewry on the eve of the Shoah. This cinematic biography follows his path from the October Revolution to a new start in the USA via the Weimar Republic.

Vishniac was born in Russia to wealthy Jewish parents. Displaced by the October Revolution, he ended up in the global metropolis of Berlin in the middle of the roaring twenties. Here, in his iconic black and white images, he captured the intoxicating pre-war period on camera. In doing so, he became witness to the decline and increasing exclusion of Jews from society. Lengthy journeys also took Vishniac to the cities and shtetls of Eastern Europe, where he captured an everyday Jewish existence characterised by poverty and spirituality, one which was soon to be erased.

In this cinematic biography Vishniac's daughter Mara tells the story of her father's life and work. Employing a mixture of interviews with relatives, contemporary witnesses and historians, archive material, autobiographical notes and re-enacted scenes, she takes us chronologically through the life of a man who not only captured Einstein and Chagall on film, but was also a biologist and pioneer of microphotography. Rather than build a cinematic monument to him however she takes a reflective look at a person who broke new ground and yet also had his dark sides: the master of photography had a penchant for self-dramatisation and a laissez-fair attitude when it came to historical facts. And he was far from an exemplary family man.

Taxt: Rainer Mende
English: Peter Rickerby

Following the screenings on 19.6. at the Filmmuseum Potsdam and at Filmkunst 66 there will be a Q&A with director Laura Bialis and producer Nancy Spielberg.
Following the screenings on 20.6. at Moviemento and 21.6. at Filmkunst 66 there will be a Q&A with director Laura Bialis.


original title Vishniac

international title Vishniac

german title Vishniac

JFBB section Documentary Film Competition

  • director Laura Bialis

country/countries US

year 2023

duration 95