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Director Janet Tobias' documentary No Place On Earth offers new perspective on the Holocaust and that alone makes the film worth watching. New York Police Department officer Chris Nicola visited Ukraine in 1993 to explore several famous caves and discovered evidence that humans lived there for an extended period of time. These caves provided refuge for a number of Jewish families during the Nazi regime in Germany, and Tobias connects with several surviving descendants to tell their story. I was surprised to find that No Place on Earth finds a niche, untold story from the Holocaust that it tells in a straightforward, respectful manner. The families never shared these stories with outsiders until now, labeling the events too remarkable to believe, but their words are both harrowing and moving.
No Place On Earth mixes interviews and footage of Nicola speaking about discovering shoes, clothes and other items in the bowels of the caves. It took over a decade for Nicola to find someone willing to talk about the cave but he eventually met descendants of Esther Stermer, a Jewish mother who guarded her family in these caverns for over 18 months. Stermer kept an in-depth journal about the experience, and wrote in its pages that there was "no place on earth" that her family could safely hide from the Nazis. Their time underground is the longest in recorded history, and Tobias speaks with two of Stermers' sons, Saul, aged 91, and Sam, aged 86, who were small children during their year and a half underground.
The interviewees are very articulate and knowledgeable, and provide shockingly in-depth stories given their young age at the time. They recount cave life and the dangers of venturing into the open for food and other supplies. The film re-enacts some of the drama alongside the Stermers' words. Several events stand out: A young Nazi officer discovered the cave dwellers, only to be told off by Mother Stermer. A Jewish sympathizer agreed to help several cave dwellers escape, only to change his mind at the last minute. He forced them to provide "replacement bodies" to show the Nazis but decided to kill two people anyhow.
The film concludes with surviving members of the family and their descendants returning to Ukraine to visit the now-overgrown cave once again. The re-enactments were filmed at a safer location in Slovakia, but the reunion at the real cave is a fitting climax to the film. Nicola's passion and Tobias' direction makes an accomplished pair, and No Place On Earth tells a refreshingly unheard story of hope and sacrifice during a dark period of history. Most recent Holocaust documentaries have given us little information not seen or heard elsewhere, but No Place on Earth is a satisfying exception.
PICTURE AND SOUND:
The 1.78:1/1080p/AVC-encoded transfer seamlessly mixes the interviews, re-enactments and on-location footage without jarring transitions. Detail is pleasant and steady throughout, and I noticed no big issues with noise reduction or aliasing. Colors are nicely saturated, shadow detail is respectable, and texture is good.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix appropriately handles the dialogue, ambient effects and music. The interviews are perfectly clear and completely without hiss or distortion, and ambient noise wafts to the surrounds when required. English SDH and Spanish subtitles are included.
A number of additional scenes are included as individual segments: The Stermers After the War (5:37/HD); Korolowka Before the War (1:12/HD); More About Life in the Cave (2:25/HD); Food (1:34/HD); The Children (1:30/HD); David Blitzer: His Holocaust Story (3:22/HD); Harold Hochman: His Holocaust Story (2:23/HD); Chris Nicola Adventure Caving in Slovakia (2:44/HD); and Chris Nicola Adventure Caving the USA (4:44/HD). You also get several Photo Galleries and the film's Theatrical Trailer (2:27/HD).
An interesting, untold story of the Holocaust, No Place on Earth recalls the harrowing eighteen months the Stermer family spent underground in a Ukrainian cave to escape the Nazi regime. NYPD officer Chris Nicola discovered in 1993 artifacts suggesting someone lived in the cave for an extended period of time, and he spent 10 years tracking down descendants of the family that did. The film features engaging interviews and respectful re-enactments of the drama. Recommended.
William lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.