Go Long With Shorts at Palace
Published 6:26 pm, Thursday, February 27, 2014
It happens every time when "The Lady in Number 6" first hits the screen. People in the audience see a woman playing piano and then hear the film's writer say she's 109 years old.
"Everyone says, `Did they just say she's 109?! That's crazy,' " said producer Nicholas Reed.
But it's not crazy. Alice Herz-Sommer -- the main focus of this Oscar-nominated short -- was the world's oldest known Holocaust survivor. She lived in a London flat where she played her piano every day. She died Sunday, Feb. 23, at the age of 110, but her story lives on in the film. It tells how music, laughter and optimism can be keys to a long and happy life.
The short films nominated for an Academy Award are often the most creative and surprising films. Movie buffs will get to see all of this year's nominated shorts from the animation, documentary and live action categories on Saturday, March 1, in Danbury.
"What I like about this event is you get to see the best short films from around the world that ordinarily would not be seen in the theater," said Carol Spiegel, of the Main Street theater. "And what I love about this event is The Palace will show all the films in one day. It's a veritable feast for film fans."
"The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life" is the full name of Reed's film. He said it was written and directed by Malcolm Clarke, who learned of Herz-Sommer through a woman who'd written a book about her.
The author suggested to Clarke that her life was worthy of a documentary. Clarke had recently done a film involving a concentration camp and at first wasn't interested in tackling the subject again so soon. But then he looked into the story further and realized there was more to be said -- much more.
Reed, of Venice, Calif., said the film is "inspirational and gives insight into the human spirit."
Two other ladies in the short are also concentration camp survivors. All of the women said the Holocaust gave them a second life because by surviving what they endured, they learned to always look for the positive side of things.
For example, Herz-Sommer outlived her son, who died when he was 64. She said he went into the hospital and never woke up, so while she was sad and missed him, she was glad he wasn't in pain, didn't know he was going to die, and didn't suffer. "She's thankful he went peacefully," Reed said in an interview last week, days before her death.
Even though the film is only 39 minutes long, it took 2 1/2 years to make. Herz-Sommer was 108 when the project was started, and the filmmakers obviously had to be respectful of her energy level.
"The first time she saw it she smiled," Reed said. "She's so pure. When she talks to you it's kind of a lesson. She always gets to the core issue."
Playing the piano always made Herz-Sommer very happy. She often said "music is magic."
"All of these women (in the film) were able to live inside their head," Reed explained. One of them said that before the war, her father told her to "put as much into your head as you can, because no one can take that away from you. The ability to use your brain is a way to be happy inside your head."
Reed said the film is suitable for all ages. A 10-year-old boy who saw it was inspired to begin playing the piano. "It's a film we can all learn from, whether we're 10 or 100," he said.
Saturday's movie marathon begins with the world of animation. The Academy's choices in this category include: "Feral," "Get a Horse!," "Mr. Hublot," "Possessions," and "Room on the Broom."
At 4 p.m., the documentary shorts will be shown. These stories explore the universal themes of humanity, kindness and suffering. Aside from "The Lady in Number 6," the nominees are: "Cavedigger," "Facing Fear," "Karama Has No Walls," and "Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall."
The marathon concludes with live-action shorts at 8 p.m. This category features five films ranging from a slice-of-life comedy to a drama exploring the atrocities of war. The nominees are: "Aquel no era yo/That wasn't me" from Spain, "Avant que de tout perdre/ Just Before Losing Everything" from France, "Helium," "Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?" from Finland, "The Voorman Problem."
"Go Long With Shorts" is the name of Saturday's program, where you can see nearly seven hours of short films in one day. Attendees will be given a ballot to predict the winning films in all three categories. Those who correctly guess the Academy Award winners will receive a pair of tickets to a future show at The Palace.
M.B. Tuccio is a freelance writer in Connecticut; email@example.com
The Palace Danbury, 165 Main St. Saturday, March 1. Animation 1 p.m., documentary 4 p.m., live action 8 p.m. $12 per category. 203-794-9944, www.thepalacedanbury.com, or at the door Saturday, March 1, starting at noon.