email print share on Facebook share on Twitter share on LinkedIn share on reddit pin on Pinterest

BERLINALE 2023 Encounters

Leandro Koch, Paloma Schachmann • Directors of The Klezmer Project

“We talk about a culture that is disappearing”


- BERLINALE 2023: The first-time directorial duo speak to us about the disappearance and the legacy of Yiddish culture and music

Leandro Koch, Paloma Schachmann • Directors of The Klezmer Project

In the aftermath of the Shoah, Yiddish culture was dead – or at least abandoned by those who survived and emigrated. In a territory stretching from modern-day Romania through Moldova to Ukraine, there once was a flourishing Yiddish community. Its only surviving legacy today is klezmer, the well-known fiddle-based music, which originally started out as wedding tunes and has recently experienced a revival across the world. Directors Leandro Koch and Paloma Schachmann travelled to this cradle to find traces of a lost culture and to portray those former neighbours of the Jewish people who perpetuate its legacy. We talked to them about The Klezmer Project [+see also:
film review
interview: Leandro Koch, Paloma Schach…
film profile
, which screened in the Berlinale’s Encounters section and won the gathering’s GWFF Best First Feature Award.

(The article continues below - Commercial information)
Hot docs EFP inside

Cineuropa: Did you ever manage to find an actual klezmer band in Moldova? Your ending kept that open.
Leandro Koch: What we hear in the movie is klezmer. We decided to film the klezmer which is close to the old Yiddish folk style. That klezmer disappeared after the Holocaust and the creation of the state of Israel. Later, there was a revival in the USA that created the klezmer we all know nowadays.

Paloma Schachmann: When music belongs to a ritual, like a wedding, it needs to sound a special way. When you are playing music for an audience, then the possibilities you have are way broader. It starts growing in sound. That was what happened to klezmer, which started out as music for weddings. Today, you can find klezmer in pubs or on a big stage. In the movie, we show the early sound of klezmer.

LK: On the other hand, it's music that has almost been forgotten. It's only guarded by those who lived with the Jewish people before the war. That was interesting for us because it was a clue to trying to understand what happened to this music and that culture. Klezmer was a door that we opened, and there was a huge universe of questions behind it.

You also make a very strong argument for the preservation of the Yiddish language, which is dying out.
PS: We know many people who speak Yiddish and who study it, so to us, Yiddish is alive. But of course, people are not raising their children in Yiddish any more. It's a language that is studied in universities. That is why we talk about a culture that is disappearing; it's no longer a language for home life.

LK: Nobody is creating art, literature, poetry or theatre in that language any more. The music is the only element of that culture that is still alive, and paradoxically, it doesn't have words. It doesn't have a language.

You have a Yiddish-speaking narrator for your movie, Perla Sneh.
PS: We found our narrator during the last leg of editing. It changed the movie a great deal. We felt it was a statement from us to convert Yiddish into sound again and show people this traditional way of telling stories.

It is not only Yiddish and klezmer music that are dying out; the musicians you portray are a dying breed, too.
LK: We wanted to portray the musicians who keep these melodies alive before they die because they are really old. When they pass away, those melodies are going to die with them. We wanted to leave an audiovisual record.

(The article continues below - Commercial information)

Did you enjoy reading this article? Please subscribe to our newsletter to receive more stories like this directly in your inbox.

See also

Privacy Policy