Coming to DVD March 21



See the trailer and further information at Zeigeist Films

and reviews of the film in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, The Hollywood Reporter


The distribution of the DVD is restricted to the US and Canada region.





By Melanie Goodfellow


Documentary film-maker Ada Ushpiz tells Screen about charting the life and

fertile mind of a great thinker in her new film

Vita Activa, The Spirit Of Hannah Arendt.

When Ada Ushpiz’s timely documentary Vita Activa, The Spirit Of Hannah Arendt,

exploring the roots and legacy of the legendary philosopher’s thinking, premiered at

Munich International Film Festival earlier this year it played to a packed-out theatre.

“There was not a ticket to be had,” says respected film-maker Ushpiz, whose credits

include Good Garbage, Desert Brides and Detained. Today’s screening at Jerusalem

Film Festival, where the film is playing in the documentary competition, is also sold



“They’re not just coming for the documentary,” declares Ushpiz. “They’re also drawn

by the figure of Hannah Arendt. She remains as popular, if not more popular, than

when she was alive because she was ahead of her time.”


“She is beyond post-modernism. She was a thinking person. She didn’t subscribe to

any set doctrine or school of thought but based her writings on experience and what

was really happening. She had the ability to universalise her personal experience.”


Arendt’s writings, notes the film-maker, have influenced movements as diverse as

Poland’s Solidarity and the pro-democracy Arab Spring. To this day, they also remain

a source of inspiration for the Jewish secular movement. The philosopher’s life-long

defence of the need for a plurality of thought and voices makes Arendt’s work

particularly timely, Ushpiz adds.


In Vita Activa, The Spirit Of Hannah Arendt, she hones in on Arendt’s early writings,

focusing in particular on her most famous work, Eichmann In Jerusalem, based on the

trial of Adolf Eichmann in 1961, for his role as an administrator supporting the

deportation and extermination of Jews during the Holocaust.


It was in this work that Arendt crystallised her theory about the “banality of evil”,

stemming from Eichmann’s assertion that he wasn’t guilty because he had simply been

carrying out orders. “I came to the whole thing because I was intrigued by the idea of

the banality of evil,” says Ushpiz. “The more I live in this world, the more I believe it is relevant.”


The documentary traces how Arendt’s thinking and writing grew out of her

experiences growing up in Germany, leaving the country during the rise of the Nazi

party and subsequently living a peripatetic life across Europe.


She touched down in Prague, Geneva and Paris, and was briefly interned by the

Nazis in France before fleeing to the US in 1941. This period in Arendt’s life resulted

in her writings on what it meant to be a refugee.


Her theory that stateless people find themselves “superfluous” to society remains as

relevant now as it did at the time of its formulation in the late 1940s.


Ushpiz’s film also touches on Arendt’s complex relationship with her philosophy

professor Martin Heidegger, who was later discovered to be a Nazi sympathiser.


“Her relationship with Heidegger was complicated,” says the director. “Researchers

have recently come across lectures he gave in 1933 and 1934 while he was the

rector of the University of Freiburg. He speaks in real Nazi language, it’s really



Vita Activa intercuts archival audio and video footage of Adolf Hitler and his military

chief Hermann Göring, 1930s Europe, refugee conveys, the horrors uncovered in

post-war Europe and the Eichmann trial with contemporary interviews with academics

who either knew Arendt or have studied her writings in depth.


Arendt’s words on the subject of being a refugee, for example, run over footage of

people being loaded into lorries, a soup kitchen for Jewish refugees in Paris in the

1930s and images of Hitler addressing his followers.


Where possible, Arendt’s story is told through her own words, either by an actress

reading her writings and letters, or through television interviews. “I did a lot of

interviews but decided in the end it was important for her to tell her own story,

through her own words, either in interview or her writing,” explains Ushpiz. “She

writes very emotionally, which is nice.”


Having spent five years researching, financing and producing the documentary,

Ushpiz says she would like to make a second feature that would examine Arendt’s

work in the final decade of her life, and its impact in the subsequent decades. “For

me,” concludes Ushpiz, “the work of her final years was in many ways even more