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RBG, Mr. Rogers & Itzhak: Profiles in Kindness

July 20, 2018

 

37422431_413141852529372_4787438631390281728_nOne of my favorite films of the year, Alison Chernick‘s wonderful documentary Itzhak lm is available on Amazon and iTunes today. If you loved RBG and the Mister Rogers doc Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, you’ll be right in tune with this loving portrait of the great violinist and humanitarian Itzhak Perlman. It’s the type of profile in kindness that we need right now. I chatted with Chernick about music, movies and mensches.

Why did you want to make a film about Itzhak Perlman?

He’s the ultimate mensch. Everyone knows he’s a great violinist but I didn’t want to make a concert film. I wanted to tell the untold story and unravel the man behind the musician.  The music starts in his heart and flows through his hands. Itzhak is a warm, kind and generous person. I wanted to capture his wealth of humanity in this film.

He seems like an approachable, down-to-earth guy, and he got very comfortable around you. How did you reach the point where he didn’t notice you were there?

Documentaries by nature are very intrusive — that’s the name of the game. So the art of documentary filmmaking is both riding that balance between being in the way and out of the way.  You have to be in the way enough to get what you need, up close, but also out of the way so you’re not interfering. It takes time to build that trust and once that was in place – plus his comfort in front of the camera – the combination and chemistry created a good path for honesty.

Your films are always cinema verite. Why do you favor that style over a more traditional talking-heads approach?

I find that to be the most organic and natural way to present somebody. It gives more credit to the viewer. It allows them to form their own opinions and not be spoon-fed. Often, talking heads can be very interesting, but in this case, I didn’t feel like we needed them. I don’t think there was anyone who could say something about Itzhak that was more interesting than letting Itzhak speak for himself.

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A number of bio-docs have been big hits at the box office this summer, and they all seem to focus on kind-hearted people like Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Fred Rogers and Itzhak Perlman. Why do you think these kinds of films are resonating now?

With what’s going on in the world right now politically, truth is stranger than fiction these days. People are fatigued by the news — and we’re living in morally corrupt times —so positive inspiring stories I believe are somewhat of a relief.

What is it specifically about Itzhak’s life story and personality that makes him an important person to know about and spend time with in this current climate?

His resilience, the story of overcoming adversity — he contracted polio at the age of 4 in Israel and has had leg braces ever since —  this experience created a positive outlook for him later in life, to appreciate what he did have. It humbled him and made him feel lucky for his passion for music and his love for his family. Through watching his experience, we can learn from it. He is a role model to many.

 

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