Filmmakers Paloma Schachmann and Leandro Koch speak to Close-Up Culture about their film, The Klezmer Project (Adentro mío estoy bailando).
The film follows Leandro, a frustrated Jewish wedding cameraman with no interest in his family’s religion. But when he falls in love with klezmer-playing clarinetist Paloma, he fabricates a documentary project on klezmer music in order to spend time with her.
The Klezmer Project will screen at Berlinale 2023 – Ticket info
Can you tell us about The Klezmer Project and how this film came about?
Leandro: In 2016 Paloma came to me with the idea of making a documentary film on klezmer music. I told her “yes of course”, but I really didn’t like that music at that time. So I thought that that plot was actually interesting. A guy doing a documentary on something he doesn’t like just to spend some time with a girl he did like. Of course, what Paloma showed me about klezmer and Yiddish culture was way more interesting than that simple plot. So we started to work on the “boy meets girl” story while we were doing research on the big question of the film, regarding vanishing cultures.
Paloma: By the time we came from that first trip, we had already met and roughly filmed plenty great musicians from klezmer and yiddish, but we knew that what we had was still not enough for making the movie we wanted. So we began the long path. We’ve written more than 6 different scripts for the movie before shooting, and during the editing we kept writing non-stop until we got something that we felt was what we wanted.
The film takes us from ‘Buenos Aires to the frontiers of Ukraine, Romania and Moldavia in pursuit of a disappearing cultural heritage.’ What do you explore in this road movie?
Leandro: I grew up within the Jewish community of Buenos Aires. All that I knew from Judaism was what I saw in my childhood. But my grandfather always told my stories about a Jewish culture that was quite different from what I knew. Most of the regions where we filmed this documentary are so deep into their traditions that sometimes it feels that part of their daily life happens in another time. According to Bob Cohen (a musician and ethnomusicologist) it was their self defense mechanism under the Soviet collectivization and the destruction of the Greek Orthodox Church. That random event in history gave us the possibility of actually knowing how that culture was in the beginning of the 19th century, when our grandparents lived their childhood there.
Can you tell us about the music in the film?
Paloma: I think the best way of understanding klezmer history is to think that it started as a music for weddings. When music is part of a ritual, it’s tight to it in a way that cannot change freely. It has boundaries where to move, and these boundaries are the different parts of the ritual that’s taking part. The big change in klezmer history, as happened in plenty of other music genres, came when in the United States some musicians decided to play klezmer on stages, for a sitting-audience: that was the kickstart of a new sound of klezmer.
Every piece of music in the film is deeply connected with klezmer music. The folk traditional music as the one that influenced klezmer in its early stages, the traditional klezmer that’s played for people dancing, the improvised versions of klezmer traditional tunes or the leitmotiv which is a definition of a klezmer period itself.
How did you two meet and what is your dynamic like together?
Our dynamic together has changed a lot over the years, and that’s the most important because we keep changing ourselves a lot over the years too. When working, we have very different styles, and many times we have different perspectives of the same things, so we basically talk a lot about everything to find our common spots where to build our work. Talking to each other is the one dynamic that we try to keep always present.
I understand you started working on this project in 2018. What are your standout memories of making this film?
Leandro: We started in 2016, when we traveled through Poland, Ukraine, Romania and Moldova looking for musicians who still knew klezmer tunes. That first trip was mind blowing for us because we met so many great musicians and they were all really open with us, letting us stay at their places and filming them playing mostly in amazing traditional weddings.
After three years of development of the project, screenwriting and fundraising we were ready for the shooting in Romania in 2020 when the pandemic began and we had to run home before all the borders started to close.
Paloma: Of course the pandemic was unforgettable in every possible sense. But it brought a feeling that we already knew when we’d lost one of the fiddlers we wanted to film, and the same feeling when Leandro’s grandmother died. The feeling of “what are we going to do now?”.
In all, my standout memories are divided between all the times we had to go through hard times and all the times we were thrilled by a recognition of our work, when showing it to close friends or decision makers .
What do you hope audiences take away from the film at Berlinale and beyond?
Leandro: I hope what I hope from a movie when I see it myself. That in the end, at least something had changed in me after watching it. That it was not the same to see it as to hadn’t seen it. I hope audiences enjoy the stories, get to know places they didn’t know, listen to a kind of music that they have never heard and in the best case scenario, that they leave the movie theater with new questions to answer.
Paloma: I totally agree that the one important thing will be to know that the audiences have new subjects to talk or think about after watching our film. But I also think the audience is the one part that we needed to complete our movie, to deeply understand it. With whatever comes with that, I look forward to what we will be able to take away from the audience, what we will know from our movie that we wouldn’t have been able to know without showing it.
What are your hopes and ambitions for the future?
Paloma: First of all, get some vacation. Because it has been many years of hard work and the last six months were exhausting. But after that we hope we can start developing our next feature film soon, for which we are already anxious.
See The Klezmer Project at Berlinale 2023 – | Berlinale | Programme | Programme – Adentro mío estoy bailando | The Klezmer Project