‘Zuzana: Music is Life’ returns for special Aspen screening
IF YOU GO …
What: ‘Zuzana: Music is Life’
Where: Isis Theater
When: Tuesday, July 17, 7:30 p.m.
How much: $9-$12
Tickets: Isis box office; metrotheatres.com
More info: the screening will be followed by a Q&A with filmmakers Harriet and Peter Getzels moderated by pianist Anton Nel.
The documentary “Zuzana: Music is Life” is kicking off a national screening tour Tuesday in Aspen.
The film, about the life of Czech musician Zuzana Ruzickova, opened the 2017 Aspen Filmfest in October. It’s returning, during the Aspen Music Festival season, for a special presentation at the Isis Theatre to be followed by a Q&A with filmmakers Harriet and Peter Getzels moderated by the pianist Anton Nel.
Ruzickova survived Nazi concentration camps as a child and endured adulthood under a totalitarian communist regime. She then rose to the heights of classical music to become a Czech national treasure and the first person to record Bach’s complete works for keyboard.
Ruzickova, who died last year at 90, tells her tragic and triumphant life story herself in the documentary. The filmmakers spent four years filming with her.
The documentary follows the harpsichordist’s life from an idyllic and musical childhood in Prague to her horrific six years in concentration camps and labor camps. Ruzickova recalls her time in the Terezin labor camp, where her father and grandparents were killed, and her horrific experiences in Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen, where she contracted the bubonic plague. She was sent to the gas chambers in June 1944 — her life spared by the American D-Day invasion, which spurred the Nazis to send her to a labor camp instead.
“When people ask me how I was able to survive, I always say, ‘It was a hundred miracles,’” Ruzickova says in the film.
It also was the miracle of music, she believed. She recalled carrying a piece of sheet music with her throughout the Holocaust as a talisman of hope.
Less than a decade out of the camps and still suffering under the totalitarian Communist regime in Czechoslovakia, Ruzickova began winning international attention as a musician in the mid-1950s. As she rose to prominence, despite suspicion from Communist authorities, her music became a salve for those enduring life behind the Iron Curtain. When her concerts played on the radio in Prague in the 1970s and ’80s, one observer says in the film, “listening suddenly filled you with dignity.”
Devoting herself to Bach, she said, allowed her to recover from the traumas of the Holocaust and restored her faith in humanity.
“In his music, you always feel a deep sense in being human,” Ruzickova said.
She narrates much of the film sitting at her kitchen table, often playing music on her CD player and smoking, discussing the unthinkable traumas of her youth in her strikingly forthcoming and matter-of-fact manner.
“She has thought so deeply about not just what it meant for her and her family, but for Europe and all of mankind,” Harriet Getzels said in an interview before Filmfest last year. “She can step back from her personal story and can articulate the larger meaning.”
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The nonprofit VOICES led 39 bilingual Basalt Middle School students through a visual journaling project to tell their stories this spring.