2017 Oscar Nominee - Best Documentary Short

Joe’s Violin

Director: Kahane Corn and Raphaela Neihausen

Released: 2016

View on: Vanity Fair

*Note: This post is part of a series I am writing on the 2017 Oscar nominees for best documentary short.

Joe’s Violin tells the story of a Holocaust survivor who donates his old violin to an organization (the Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation) that provides instruments to New York City schools. Joe grew up in Warsaw, Poland, and learned to play the violin at a young age. His mother was particularly musical. When the Nazi’s invaded Poland, Joe and his father fled (without his violin) and were sent to hard labor camps in Siberia for years. His mother and two brothers were sent to concentration camps – only one brother survived.

After the war, Joe, his father, and his brother were living in a relocation camp when Joe found a violin at the flea market. He traded some cigarettes for it, and it came with him when he immigrated to New York City in 1948. But as life continued, Joe played the violin less and less. When WNYC, New York City’s NPR station, held a drive for the Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation, Joe decided to donate his old violin. He was asked to fill out a form telling the history of the instrument, so he did. At the foundation, they determined that this instrument had a special history.

They chose to give the violin to the Bronx Global Learning Institute for Girls, a school that serves mostly immigrant and refugee girls, and where every child learns to play the violin from a young age. The student who was chosen to play Joe’s violin is a young woman named Brianna who loves playing. Brianna and her music teacher invite Joe to the school to meet them and the rest of the students, and Brianna learns to play a special song for Joe. Seeing Joe and Brianna bond over the violin is probably the highlight of this film.

I think Joe’s Violin has a couple of important points. First, the obvious point that we cannot forget history – we cannot forget the Holocaust and cannot let anything like that happen again (though arguably it already is in some parts of the world). Second, music can bring us together, and it’s a gift that can be passed on. Consider donating your old instruments, or money for new instruments, to your local school or to an organization like the Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation so that we can keep music alive in our schools.

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