WHY YOU SHOULD WATCH A HOLOCAUST FILM ON INSTAGRAM
BY ERNA ADELSON
On Wednesday, May 1, 2019 (Israel’s annual Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day) the Instagram handle @eva.stories began posting a series of stories. Based on the actual diaries of Eva Heyman, a Hungarian teenager who perished in Auschwitz in 1944, eva.stories depicts the Nazi occupation of Hungary from the perspective of a teenage girl. Instead of simply creating a film that was edited to Instagram specs, the creators of eva.stories utilize Instagram’s storytelling technology; the film is shot and edited as if its main character had an Instagram. By Thursday, May 2, eva.stories had posted 70 stories. We are introduced to Eva’s family and friends using the parlance of Instagram: boomerangs, emojis, filters, hashtags. And then, we watch as the characters are called slurs, relocated from their comfortable apartment to a ghetto, terrorized by Nazi soldiers, and finally, board a train. We know as they climb into the crowded train car that this is the end of Eva’s story.
I started watching eva.stories after a prompt from a post by Gal Gadot. I was immediately intrigued by the premise: What if a girl in the Holocaust had Instagram? My first thought was: if this has been done right, it’s a brilliant idea with potentially revolutionary consequences. I proceeded with caution though at first; I was afraid to like it right off the bat. When it comes to content that fictionalizes atrocities, one should be on guard. However, after the first couple of stories I watched, my reservations faded. First, the production value is obvious. This was not a job that cut corners. A quick search revealed that eva.stories was concepted and funded by Israeli billionaire Mati Kochevi and and his daughter Maya, and the cost was in the millions, with costumes, props and sets true to the era. The actors are also well-cast, especially Mia Quiney, the British actress who played Eva. She inhabits Eva’s world and ours naturally and simultaneously, to startling effect. While it’s not perfect and sometimes the Instagram-specific techniques were distracting, by the end of the films, I was emotionally attached and appropriately depressed. I almost didn’t watch the last few stories. But I did, and I think that you, too, should watch them all.
Perhaps rightfully, eva.stories has been met with controversy, with detractors worried that adding the lens of modern technology to such a somber event in the history of humanity will lead to more “selfie-taking at the gates of Auschwitz-Birkenau.” (This of course, had already become a thing, purposely and inadvertently sparking rage). And to be fair, there have been some unrelated, unfortunate handlings of culturally sensitive material; in the most widely covered incident, YouTube personality Logan Paul appeared to sensationalize a visit to Japan’s Aokigahara forest. But after watching eva.stories, this criticism feels unearned. Eva.stories, in its intent and execution, is a far cry from being someone’s “take” on the Holocaust, nor is it ironic or haphazard. Though it may be slightly jarring at first to see a hashtag appear alongside images with such strong implications, these elements are for the most part, deftly woven into the grim narrative.
With statistics indicating that the target audience - teenagers - is increasingly uninformed about the Holocaust, eva.stories begins to feel like a necessary evolution of the way that we tell such stories, working alongside literature, curriculum, and memorials. Finally, the consumption and endorsement of the project (Yad Vashem, Israel’s official Holocaust memorial center, released a statement to this effect) ushers in possibilities for Instagram beyond the largely superficial content that it’s become associated with.