subjects of this year’s two best Oscar nominated documentary shorts have some
pretty unique talents, but Alice Herz-Sommer is in a class by herself. Still
playing with verve at the spry age of 109, Herz-Sommer performed over one
hundred piano recitals in the Theresienstadt (or Terezin) concentration camp.
Taking strength from her music, she lived to tell and continued to find the
beauty in life. Her story unfolds in Malcolm Clarke’s The Lady in Number 6 (trailer here), part of the
annual two part showcase of Academy Award nominated short docs, which opens
today at the IFC Center.
a young girl, Herz-Sommer’s sophisticated Prague family often socialized with
the likes of Gustav Mahler and Franz Kafka. Something of a prodigy, she was
widely recognized as one of the world’s top concert pianists by the time she
was in her early thirties. Then the
Herz-Sommer survived, but she would be no stranger to tragedy. Yet, her
indomitable spirit is genuinely inspiring—not in a Hallmark card sort of way,
but reflecting hard won wisdom and a tenacious love of music. Still razor sharp
at 109, she is forceful screen presence, who never resorts to canned clichés.
stranger to the subject of Theresienstadt, Malcolm Clarke was previously Oscar
nominated for the documentary feature, Prisoner
of Paradise, chronicling the life of Herz-Sommer’s fellow prisoner, Kurt
Gerron. He includes enough historical context for those unfamiliar with the
realities of the Potemkin concentration camp, but keeps the focus squarely on
Herz-Sommer. He also has a great voice for narration and incorporates some
distinctive original music, performed by Julie Theriault. Altogether, it is a
sensitive and classy package, standing head and shoulders above the rest of the
he life circumstances are radically different, Ra Paulette, the subject of
Jeffrey Karoff’s Cavedigger (trailer here) is another fascinating artist. Like the
title implies, Paulette digs caves. He is sort of a subterranean landscape
artist, whose work incorporates elements of architecture and sculpture.
Frankly, Paulette comes across as a bit of a flake, but his dedication is
impressive and his caves are truly a sight to behold. Some of his work is reminiscent
of Granada cave homes, but on a much grander scale. It is real feat of
filmmaking, spanning years and transporting viewers to the remote corners of northern
Yemen would also be considered quite the exotic locale, but over the last two
years footage of the Arab Spring uprisings have become almost ubiquitous. Sara
Ishaq’s Karama has no Walls adds some
particularly graphic images to the public discourse. Drawing on video shot by
two remarkably young cameramen, Walls is
surprisingly effective breaking down step-by-step how the Change Square
massacre escalated. Yet, despite the anguished testimony of two grieving
fathers (say, why don’t we the mothers on camera, as well?), the film has the
look and trajectory of an extended BBC report. In contrast, Matthew VanDyke’s Not Anymore feels more cinematic, yet
also more immediate.
Granted, Herz-Sommer’s story has been documented
in Caroline Stoessinger’s widely translated A
Century of Wisdom, but thank heavens Clarke got her oral history on film.
Frankly, Paulette is not getting any younger either, but he seems to keep
chugging along, just like Herz-Sommer. The best of the five, The Lady in Number 6 screens as part of
the annual nominated short documentary showcase’s program A, along with the
well intentioned Karama has no Walls.
The intriguing outdoorsman outsider art documentary Cavedigger screens as part of program B, both of which open today
(1/31) in New York at the IFC Center.
Labels: Alice Herz-Sommer, Documentary, Malcolm Clarke, Ra Paulette, Short Films