By Katrina Medoff
In the 2017 Academy Award-nominated short documentary Joe’s Violin, 91-year-old Holocaust survivor Joseph Feingold donates the violin that he bought after World War II before immigrating to the United States. The instrument ends up in the hands of Bronx student Brianna Perez, who’s passionate about music and has dreams of attending a performing arts high school.
NYWIFT member Katrina Medoff spoke with director and producer Kahane Cooperman about her inspiration for the documentary, her Oscar nomination and her experience with having New York Women in Film & Television (NYWIFT) fiscally sponsor the film.
Director/Producer Kahane Cooperman
How did you first hear about Joe’s story, and when did you know you had to make a documentary out of it?
Kahane Cooperman: I was driving to work, listening to the car radio and heard a promo for the station’s instrument drive that mentioned a few of the donations that had already come in, including a violin from a 91-year-old Holocaust survivor. I wondered if the violin had a story. When I met with the donor, Joseph Feingold, I knew it was worth pursuing as a film and decided to follow the violin to see where it would land.
What was your experience with having NYWIFT fiscally sponsor Joe’s Violin, and what was your fundraising process like?
This film was a labor of love, primarily financed through a Kickstarter fundraising campaign. However, those donations that we received outside of Kickstarter came to us via our NYWIFT fiscal sponsorship. It was wonderful to offer backers a tax-deductible option for their donation. Also, I was proud to be affiliated with an organization that supports women.
There’s a lovely image toward the end of your film in which Joe shakes the hand of a young girl at the school, and we learn that after Brianna graduates, another student will receive the violin, then another, and so on. Can you talk about what happens after the documentary ends?
Brianna did indeed audition for performing arts high schools in NYC playing on Joe’s violin. She was one of 10 kids accepted to Talent Unlimited, which was her first choice!
What is the legacy of the violin, and have Brianna and Joe kept in contact?
At Brianna’s eighth-grade graduation ceremony from the Bronx Global Learning Institute for Girls, Brianna passed the violin down to the next recipient, a talented young student musician named Nya. The violin will continue to passed down forever through the school. Brianna and Joe are now connected for life —you see the moment they first meet in the film, but their bond continues today. They write letters to each other and see each other at screenings and events. Whenever they are together, they are smiling with arms around each other. There is a real love there.
Brianna and Joe (via ff2media.com)
The theme of immigration struck me as especially relevant today. Do you view your film differently under the current political climate?
The film has many themes but yes, since the election, the idea that this is an immigrant story has special resonance. Joe came here as refugee after WWII and Brianna is the daughter of parents who emigrated from the Dominican Republic.
The most touching moment of the film for me was when Joe asked, “Sometimes I wonder: do I really deserve it? What did I do?” and Brianna answered, “You never gave up. That’s what you did. You had hope.” Her wisdom seems far beyond her years. What was the most touching moment for you?
I agree that was an astounding moment—to hear those words and that wisdom come from a 12-year-old girl. I love that the surprise of that moment is even reflected in our cinematographer Bob Richman’s quick move off of Joe and onto Brianna. Honestly, watching this whole story unfold was so full of touching moments—I was pretty much weepy the entire time.
Joe’s Violin was included in NYWIFT’s Women Calling the Shots shorts screening at the Hamptons Film Festival. Can you tell us about your experience at this fest?
Being included in the Women Calling the Shots screening at HFF was such an honor. I was thrilled to be on the panel with the other filmmakers and impressive women leaders. There’s so much great work being done by women—we need more of it!
Finally, congratulations on the Oscar nomination for this film! How did you find out that your film was nominated, and what has changed for the film (in terms of distribution and press) since the nomination?
My producer Raphaela Neihausen and I watched the Oscar nominations from the couch in my living room as they were announced on Good Morning America. We found out at the same time as everyone else in the world. Since the nomination and leading up to the Oscars, there has definitely been an uptick in press interest. We already had digital distribution on NewYorker.com and a POV/PBS Broadcast in the works. POV was just announced about two weeks ago—we are thrilled!
Watch the film via The New Yorker:
NYWIFT provides fiscal sponsorship to members with projects, like Joe’s Violin, with a creative, educational or charitable purpose. Learn more.