HotDocs ’23: Nathan-ism

In Nathan-ism, we are introduced to Nathan Hilu, a man who was only an 18-year-old Jewish US Army private at the end of World War II. Yet, somehow, this young man found himself guarding top Nazi war criminals during Nuremberg, such as Hermann Goring and Albert Speer. Now, in his 90s, the elder survivor spends his days feverishly chronicling his unbelievable stories through his art. These photos, if authenticated, could offer never-before-seen insight into the war, changing the way we understand history. However, discrepancies begin to creep into Hilu’s stories, causing doubt where there should be truth.

Directed by Elan Golod, Nathan-ism is a delightfully entertaining (and surprisingly thrilling) journey into the mind of a man who wants to be known as an important piece of history. In Hilu, Golod has absolutely struck gold in terms of a subject. At all times, Hilu is both forthright and elusive. His artistic renditions of his time guarding the worst Nazi offenders unspool riveting portraits of the events after the Second World War, telling stories of murder and intrigue.

But can he be trusted?

What’s most heartwrenching about Hilu is the fact that his story is difficult to corroborate. Is this truly something from his past? Or is he simply imagining aspects of his history in the most vivid of ways? While the film plays with truth on both sides of those questions, one thing is for sure: Hilu is absolutely convinced of his stories. To him, these memories are absolute fact yet Golod isn’t entirely certain himself. As such, Nathan-ismplays with the flaws of memory and how that can be shaped by perspective. Hilu’s memories (and art) are so vivid that one wants to believe him. But can we, and should we? This question creates the hard reality of Nathan-ism where one man’s truth may or may not end up being fact.

Nathan-ism premiered at HotDocs ’23. For more information, click here.

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