Misha and the Wolves Director Sam Hobkinson on the Challenges of Making a Documentary About Fiction – Hollywood Reporter

Posted By on December 14, 2021

If Holocaust survivor Misha Defonsecas personal tale of escaping Nazi Germany as a child by being accepted into a protective pack of wolves, which she turned into a bestselling book, seems too astonishing to be true, Netflixs documentary Misha and the Wolves puts it under a microscope that examines both its veracity and why people want to believe in it.

Misha and the Wolves is the story of a lie, says filmmaker Sam Hobkinson. When you make a documentary film about an untruth, you are inverting the form, turning it on its head. There is a fiction at the heart of your non-fiction film and it releases a ton of formal and creative possibilities. I wanted to make a psychological thriller about belief, about how and why we believe the stories we are told, and it seemed this was the perfect story to do it with.

Hobkinson said that he and his crew had to be judicious about he way they presented the falsehoods at the core of Defonsecas tale. We were always aware that this could be seen as a film that fanned the flames of Holocaust denial the theory that if one Holocaust account is questionable, how can we believe any? he explained. Many potential funders were queasy about signing up to a film that might be seen to do this. We were at pains to stress that we wanted to wrestle the story back from the Holocaust deniers by using it as a plea for rigor of research based on fact.

A further challenge came with the onslaught of the global pandemic. We shot the film during the first wave of COVID, says Hobkinson. I am based in the U.K., so there is no way I could physically be present for the U.S. filming, and I made the terrifying decision to do it remotely. Luckily we had scouted locations and met the interviewees before lockdown, which made it possible. I was worried I wouldnt get the same emotional connection via a Zoom link, but thanks to some clever technological setups, I believe I came away with exactly what I would have done had I been in the room.

The filmmaking process ultimately created a tremendous awareness of the power and responsibility of storytelling, Hobkinson revealed. Mishas story should be a reminder to all storytellers that, if the ingredients are right, the audience are willing to invest a huge amount of emotion in what you have to say, he says. It made me realize the power one has in ones hands as a storyteller, and in many situations the huge amount of responsibility that goes along with it.

By deconstructing Defonsecas compelling fabrication, Hobkinson says he hopes the film will will make audiences think about the manipulative aspects of storytelling and filmmaking, especially documentary film storytelling. I also hope it will make them think about how trauma can make us re-invent our pasts. And finally I hope it will make them understand the importance of the rigor of research and skepticism in the hunger for unbelievable true stories.

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Misha and the Wolves Director Sam Hobkinson on the Challenges of Making a Documentary About Fiction - Hollywood Reporter

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