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Interview: Ed Zwick

By SHAULA CLARK  |  January 19, 2009

I've always been interested in how directors choose to treat subtitles. How did you decide to approach yours?
Well, the conceit was that when they were speaking English to each other, they were speaking Yiddish. That they had their own language.

I thought that was really effective.
Good. Similarly, I wanted them to have that feeling of being the other — where they had to speak the lingua franca, which was Russian. It could have been Polish, by the way, there was both Polish and Russian. I had to make a choice. I was in Lithuania, where everyone spoke Russian, and so did the Russian actors nearby. I would have had to go to great lengths to — I mean, it probably would have been impossible to find all Polish-speakers to play those parts. So I decided they were speaking Russian, as so may did. Belarus had been under Russian occupation as much as Polish, so that's why I made those decisions. But I really liked the sense of hearing those different sounds and establishing the fact that they were of themselves and they had to — as many Jews have had to do — learn several other languages in order to survive. At one point they're speaking German, at others, Russian, Polish — I think that was important.

Maybe I'm misremembering this, but it seemed like a lot of German was not subtitled.
Sometimes. Because how could they understand it? I tried to keep it subjective.

A shorter version of this article originally appeared in Stuff at Night.

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