By George Kozera
As a child of a parent who was as an Auschwitz survivor, I am constantly drawn to Documentaries about said subject matter as watching narrative features on the topic (Schindler’s List, Son of Saul, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas) devastate me emotionally and I can only watch those when the sun shines as that brightness signifies life and hope. Being Catholic and consigned to work in the kitchens, my mother’s experience there may not have been as laborious and dangerous as other survivors, but her daily horrors were parallel to those with numbers tattooed on their arm. Executive produced by Hillary and Chelsea Clinton, Writer/Producer/Director Sara Takster’s HOW SABA KEPT SINGING is one of the best Documentaries about the Holocaust that I have seen.
94-year-old David “Saba” Wisnia always believed he survived the camp because he would entertain the Nazi SS officers with his exceptional singing voice. His musically-inclined grandson, Avi, had heard many stories from his grandfather when growing up but felt there were still many things unspoken. As we watch these two men throughout many years, which include two visits to Auschwitz, we are also introduced to Helen “Zippi” Spitzer from audio tapes she made when being interviewed and are housed in the United States Memorial Museum in Washington DC. Also musically inclined (she played the mandolin in the orchestra that would “greet” the new prisoners entering the camp), Zippi survived due to the Nazi capitalizing on her strengths as a graphic artist and designer. Midway through the movie, Saba and Zippi’s lives and stories intersect.
HOW SABA KEPT SINGING exceeds levels of expectations, both historical and emotional. It helps tremendously that Saba and Avi have an enviable and loving bond and that Saba is wildly-fascinating and erudite with an impish sense of humour. With insights from Zippi, the story is equally heartwarming and heartbreaking. Secrets unfold that illuminate and astonish.
HOW SABA KEPT SINGING is a towering achievement that moved me both to tears and laughter and, in a perfect world, Avi Wisnia deserves an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song.
Hot Docs ’22 screening schedule:
Sunday, May 1, 2022 @ 2:30 pm ET at TIFF Bell Lightbox 1 ** World Premiere
Friday, May 6, 2022 @ 11:00 am ET at TIFF Bell Lightbox 2
Sunday, May 8, 2022 @ 2:00 pm ET at TIFF Bell Lightbox 1
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