Sunday, February 02, 2014

Oscar-nominated documentary shorts include films about a Holocaust survivor pianist, another Arab Spring rebellion, and an anti-gay hate crime forgiveness

The Oscar Nominated Documentary Shorts is divided into two programs, and I saw program A this afternoon at the West End Cinema (“All stories told here”) in Washington DC before the Super Bowl.  Despite the football game to follow shortly, the show was nearly sold out. 
The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life” (39 min, UK, dir. Malcolm Clarke) is Alice Herz Sommer, now the oldest living concert pianist in the world at age 109, living in north London, in Belsize Park. She is also said to be the world’s oldest living Holocaust survivor.  She actually met Gustav Mahler as a young girl.
She describes how her life was taken away by the invading Germans in Czechoslovakia in March 1939.  The Nazis eventually took her grand piano because music was only for non-Jews.  But at Theresienstadt, her people were “allowed” to continue their cultural life for a while, which the Nazis used for propaganda purposes. (The “Paradise Ghetto” is well covered in the Herman Wouk novel and ABC series “War and Remembrance”.)  Even at Auschwitz, she survived by playing music.  She talks particularly about playing the Chopin etudes, but in the background music in the film there is a lot of Bach.
The film interviews some other musicians who survived the camps, including one woman who, alive among the corpses at the time of liberation, says, “I did not view myself as a victim, but as an observer”.  That is how I feel about things. 
Karama Has No Walls” (26 min, Yemen and UK, by Sara Ishaq), assembles live footage taken by young rebels at Change Square in Sana’a, Yemen during a rebellion on Friday, March 18, 2011.  The footage is quite graphic, in one place showing an eleven-year-old boy having his eyes shot out.  The film focuses on just one day so it gives much less perspective than the recent feature “The Square” on Egypt (Jan. 27). 
Facing Fear” (23 min, USA, by Jason Cohen) tells the story of a gay-bashing in the 1970s by a neo-Nazi, who actually believed that the man, beaten in east LA, was dead.  The young man had been thrown out of his home by his mother who would not tolerate “sin” (or the idea of not getting grandchildren from him).  The ex-white supremacist gives a chilling view of the ideology of the group, and its desire to prove superiority through violence and force.  The gay man builds up his life and eventually has a position as a manager at the Wiesenthal Center (Wikipedia picture ) in Los Angeles. One day the white supremacist appears as a visitor, and the gay man deals with the need to forgive him.  Eventually both speak about the incidents before guests and students at the museum. 

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