Making movies, making music
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Making movies, making music

Behind the scenes at Teaneck Film Festival’s Crescendo

A scene from “Crescendo.” © Filmkunst (Photos by Oliver Oppitz Photography)
A scene from “Crescendo.” © Filmkunst (Photos by Oliver Oppitz Photography)

Crescendo,” which premiered in January in Germany and is playing as part of the Teaneck International Film Festival later this month (see box) tells the story of a joint Israeli-Palestinian youth orchestra.

According to screenwriter Stephen Glantz, the germ of the idea long predates the West–Eastern Divan Orchestra, which Jewish conductor Daniel Barenboim and Palestinian academic Edward Said founded in 1999.

“Artur Brauner had this idea way back in the 50s or early 60s,” Mr. Glantz, 73, said. If 60 years seems a long time to hold on to an idea, well, Mr. Brauner lived a long life. Born in 1918 in Lodz, Poland, he fled with his family to the Soviet Union when the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939. After the war, he and a brother moved to Berlin, while his parents and three siblings moved to Israel. In Berlin, he founded a movie production company and went on to produce more than 250 movies, ranging from the award winners that explored the Holocaust like “Europa Europa” to the schlock like Russ Meyer’s “Fanny Hill,” which he used to fund his more serious productions. Mr. Brauner died in July 2019 — less than a month before his 101st birthday — and until the end he still was discussing scripts with his daughter, Alice Brauner, who now runs the business and has a producer’s credit on “Crescendo.”

Stephen Glantz

Mr. Glantz started working for the Brauners around the year 2000. In 2003 he co-wrote “Babi Yar” with Artur — the film’s reception in Germany disappointed Artur — and has since worked with him on several other films, many with Jewish themes.

The idea for “Crescendo” “had been waiting for the right time,” Mr. Glantz said. “His original idea had been so different. It came out of the sensibility of the 60s.”

By the time they started working on the story in 2011, “We were aware of Daniel Barenboim’s orchestra, as well as a lot of other groups that try to reconcile Israeli kids and Palestinian kids. It was something we wanted to do a movie about, but we didn’t want to do Barenboim’s story, because that would just be about Daniel Barenboim. As we went along with the project we made him aware of it, and he said good luck with it.”

Mr. Glantz enjoys the research part of a project. “I like to deal with primary sources,” he said. For this film, that included hanging out during concert rehearsals at Tanglewood, near his home in the Berkshires, just watching the conductors. It also involved going to Israel and the West Bank and “talking to a lot of people. It was a lot easier for me to do the Israeli side of the story, but in Israel I have Palestinian friends and there’s a huge Palestinian community here in the States. There were lots and lots of conversations, and then just reading all the books about the creation of Israel and the history of Israel and Palestine and how it’s gone over the years. It takes a long time for me to feel I’m ready to write a project like this.”

Once he finished writing the film, he handed it over to the director Dror Zahavi, who holds Israeli and German citizenship.

“A lot of the movie was in either Hebrew or Arabic,” Mr. Glantz said. “He has a different feel for the streets and what’s going on on the ground. A lot of it was filmed in East Jerusalem. That’s where all the Palestinian sections were filmed. Parts were filmed in Germany, and also the Italian Alps. It wasn’t clear in the film where they were. Originally we wanted to shoot in Yalta, because of Roosevelt and Stalin and Churchill, but when Russia invaded Ukraine we had to change that part of the script.

“Dror did an amazing job simplifying the story and getting a lot of the extraneous politics out of it and focusing on the musicians,” Mr. Glantz said.

Only the four lead parts are played by professional actors; the remaining members of the symphony are played by Israeli and Palestinian musicians.

“The four main characters did a huge amount of rehearsal and pre-work getting familiar with their instruments so it would sound real,” Mr. Glantz said. “Going into the production, Dror had all the actors doing the reconciliation and prejudice exercises that are displayed in the film. They had to extend the shooting of those sequences. It got really real. In one of the takes, one of the actors actually just fainted.”

Mr. Glantz didn’t see the film until it played at the New York Jewish Film Festival in January. It made the short list of German films considered for the foreign Oscar nomination. “It was really nice to be nominated and considered for it,” he said.


What: “Crescendo”

Where: Teaneck International Film Festival, online at teaneckfilmfestival.org.

When: Wednesday, November 25, 7:30 p.m. only

How much: $5.

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