Directed by: #AlexanderTuschinski
An intimate portrait of a life through interviews, pictures and music, director Alexander Tuschinski lets audiences into the unknown yet fulfilling career of Gerda Herrmann, the titular songwriter of Botnang. Herrmann, born in 1931 recounts stories of her youth growing up in Nazi Germany, her relationship to her father and living throughout the war to creating her own family and with it the inspirations to her music. Tuschinski captures Herrmann’s home life and with it a small abode filled with photo albums, music sheets, books of poems and stories, terrific access that gives visuals to the memories that Herrmann shares.
These, however, are the only visuals Tuschinski has on offer and while the documentary charts a natural progression to Herrmann’s stories, the filmmaking can become quite repetitive. We see Herrmann share video footage of her songs being performed in concert alongside her playing some samples on her piano, calming classical work and at moments it seems Tuschinski is inviting the audience to let the music create their own images. It’s just Herrmann speaking, but there is quite a cast to her story; her father, her husband, children, friends, collaborators and inspirations. Herrmann likes to place music to written words such as the poetry of Frtiz Klumpp and anthologies from writers supported by Herrmann’s charitable efforts. Bringing music to language and how it connects Herrmann to her past, an outlet to mourn her father and childhood but also to celebrate the life she created for herself demonstrates that universal power that music has on the human spirit.
While the documentary techniques are limited, Tuschinski’s editing and Herrmann’s mementoes keep the film engaging for the audience. It’s impressive how Tuschinski can effectively capture a lifetime into thirty minutes and while Herrmann probably has many more stories, it is a sweet tribute to her life’s most notable moments and accomplishments. The stories Herrmann does tell are always accompanied by a photo or object, a wonderful collection of sentimental imagery as she opens up about her pains and fears of life but also the good times. Remarkable in how her success is not driven by profit or vanity but a pure desire to create something beyond herself and connects to others.
Tuschinski is inviting the audience to reflect on how life’s success isn’t measured by quantity, Herrmann’s music plays concerts but not massive high society galas, she is not a household name but her impact was nonetheless inspiring to those around her. The Songwriter of Botnang is an artistic reminder of how our lives are just memories, kept alive by those we love but Herrmann’s work goes beyond that. Her memories, her love has become immortalised as her music is shared with those around her and thanks to Alexander Tuschinski’s film, shared with all of us.
Interview with director Alexander Tuschinski and subject Gerda Herrmann by Chris Olson