Olga Lvoff: When People Die They Sing Songs

Sonia, the daughter, sits down at the computer to write the headline “My Family’s European Genocide Story”… one of many stories, where a majority of a family ended up in Auschwitz, but in her case she is lucky to have her 93 year old mother Regina next to her, to tell her what happened. And it has to be told now while Regina is still able to remember. She is on her way to dementia.

It’s a warm and moving life story that the two of them unfold in the flat in New York, and the director succeeds to have their personalities come out. Regina is wonderful, you sense how strong she must have been, a survivor and a fighter to give her daughter a good life. Sonia indicates that the mother stays alive because she is afraid that she – Sonia – can not manage it – the life – herself! That is one of the beautiful scenes in the film. Sonia comes out a bit pushy sometimes, talking down to her mother – like we do to relatives, who are getting old, don’t we? But she is also the one to tell the story of her ill father, who when she was a child, was taken to an asylum, where she came to visit him. She saw him for twenty minutes, then he left.

Regina likes to sing, in Jiddisch, and a music teacher comes with his guitar to sing with them. These are not the most succesful scenes in the film. It sounds maybe paradoxical but I feel that the young man is an intruder to the scenes of intimacy that the director is able to establish between a mother and a daughter, who wants to know her family’s story before it is too late. This is something we can all relate to, why did we not ask mother and father when they were there…

Having said so, and also having some reservations towards some small visual dramatizations that I don’t find necessary: the documentary is a fine example of how close you can get and how respectfully and sensitive the director has dealt with the mother and daughter relationship.

Russia, USA, 47 mins., 2014


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Tue Steen Müller
Tue Steen Müller

Müller, Tue Steen
Documentary Consultant and Critic, DENMARK

Worked with documentary films for more than 20 years at the Danish Film Board, as press officer, festival representative and film consultant/commissioner. Co-founder of Balticum Film and TV Festival, Filmkontakt Nord, Documentary of the EU and EDN (European Documentary Network).
Awards: 2004 the Danish Roos Prize for his contribution to the Danish and European documentary culture. 2006 an award for promoting Portuguese documentaries. 2014 he received the EDN Award “for an outstanding contribution to the development of the European documentary culture”. 2016 The Cross of the Knight of the Order for Merits to Lithuania. 2019 a Big Stamp at the 15th edition of ZagrebDox. 2021 receipt of the highest state decoration, Order of the Three Stars, Fourth Class, for the significant contribution to the development and promotion of Latvian documentary cinema outside Latvia. In 2022 he received an honorary award at DocsBarcelona’s 25th edition having served as organizer and programmer since the start of the festival.
From 1996 until 2005 he was the first director of EDN (European Documentary Network). From 2006 a freelance consultant and teacher in workshops like Ex Oriente, DocsBarcelona, Archidoc, Documentary Campus, Storydoc, Baltic Sea Forum, Black Sea DocStories, Caucadoc, CinéDOC Tbilisi, Docudays Kiev, Dealing With the Past Sarajevo FF as well as programme consultant for the festivals Magnificent7 in Belgrade, DOCSBarcelona, Verzio Budapest, Message2Man in St. Petersburg and DOKLeipzig. Teaches at the Zelig Documentary School in Bolzano Italy.

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