Top positive review
Story of the Jewish people in 60 minutes
April 26, 2014
This hourlong 2009 documentary is a typical class act from PBS. It features interviews with leading Jewish public intellectuals (Alan Dershowitz, Elie Wiesel, etc.) in addition to commentary from religious scholars from various public universities. The videography is high-gloss, featuring some nice footage of Israel past and present, and the map graphics are well done.
Beginning with the Torah or Old Testament, the film tells the story of the Jewish people's survival from Moses through the present day, focusing with special emphasis on anti-semitic movements and the emergence of the modern state of Israel as inspired by Theodore Herzl, the Hungarian rabbi who founded Zionism. Christianity and Islam are treated respectfully as outgrowths of Judaism. A lot of excellent material is squeezed into the short running time of this ambitious and mature production.
The only downside is that the documentary's visual style is flat and sleep-inducing. Unlike the History Channel and National Geographic, PBS has yet to evolve beyond the "static photography" approach to documentary filmmaking. With a sonorous narration, this film consists largely of still photography and artwork, occasionally sprinkled with good archival and modern-day footage. Other than the map graphics, digital effects are nowhere to be seen, and there is no effort at theatrical recreation of historical events. In summary, while it's an excellent documentary for adults and serious students, it's not a film for high school kids and younger. Like most PBS programs, this one is too mature and adult for youths, limiting its general usefulness for religious education.