Joe’s Violin (2016)
Dir: Kahane Cooperman
When I sat down to watch this documentary with my breakfast, I wasn’t ready for the heartwarming tale that would make me well up with tears first thing in the morning.
Joe, a holocaust survivor, donates his violin to a campaign to get unused instruments for schools. Noting its significance, a young girl is selected to be the recipient, the film tells both their stories linked by this special instrument.
This short documentary film doesn’t try to be particularly creative, focusing on just adeptly telling these two stories, one nearing an end the other just beginning with this clear link between the two. It’s a simple but beautiful film not because of the film-making, more the heartwarming story initiated by one kind act and the fascinating history leading up to it.
When Joe’s daughter asks him why he bought a violin with meagre means and not a more useful item such as a winter coat, the answer is far from simple and not summed up in a brief reply. The film tells his story of surviving the holocaust and perfectly explains why the violin was something he prioritized. The other important question is why would he give such a sentimental item to a complete stranger, what’s then wonderful to see is that the recipient, Brianna, also has a story. Hers in comparison may have only just begun but is already interesting.
Why really makes the story work is that the organisation distributing the instruments realised the importance of this one, ensuring it wasn’t just randomly allocated by chance but that the recipient was carefully selected. I loved seeing the music teacher at the school talking with tears in her eyes, showing how much she appreciated the value of the violin and that thought and care had gone into choosing Brianna who does appreciate it and seems to be a very worthy caretaker for her time at the school before the violin passes on to someone else.
I’m not entirely sure why this affected me as much as it did. I watched it with my morning coffee, so maybe that’s part of it, plus I grew up with my older sister practising the violin in the room next to mine for years so maybe that played a part. Then there’s just something about the sound of a violin that works on the emotions particularly powerfully. I think though what really did it was the simplicity and heart of the story, that the violin in general and this specific instrument meant so much to its owner and recipient, that seemingly small act of giving opened the door to an amazing story and the film tells it well.
‘Joe’s Violin’ is nominated for the ‘Best Live Action Documentary Short’ at the Academy Awards, it has strong competition in the forms of ‘Extremis’ and ‘The White Helmets’ but if my own personal ‘weep-ometer’ is a guide to go on this has a good chance of tugging enough voters heartstrings to pull off a win. Below I included a link to the film hosted officially on YouTube though I don’t know how long it will be available there, often they are for a limited time.