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Documentary: Defiant Requiem - Voices of Resistance

(This article expired 28.03.2014.)

On April 7, at 10 pm, the documentary film DEFIANT REQUIEM - VOICES OF RESISTANCE, will screen on PBS to mark Holocaust Remembrance Day. The film follows the gripping story of an artistic uprising in a Nazi concentration camp told through archival film, prisoners' artwork, survivor recollections, dramatizations, and concert footage.

Short Synopsis:
In the face of horrific living conditions, starvation and the threat of deportation to Auschwitz, the Jewish inmates of Terezin concentration camp -- artists, musicians, poets and writers -- fought back ... with art and music. Led by conductor Raphael Schachter, they re-imagined a Catholic liturgical work, Verdi's "Requiem," as a condemnation of the Nazis. Ultimately, they performed for Nazi brass, singing what they dared not say. Six decades later, conductor Murry Sidlin and a new choir take Verdi's Requiem back to Terezin and bring the story of Raphael Schächter's artistic uprising back to life. Bebe Neuwirth narrates.

In-Depth Film Description:
In the spring of 1944, a handpicked group of Nazi officers was treated to an unusual performance by inmates in a concentration camp. What appeared to be a soaring rendition of a choral masterpiece was intended as a subversive condemnation of the Nazis and a desperate message to the outside world. In the face of horrific living conditions, slave labor and the constant threat of deportation to Auschwitz, the Jewish inmates of Terezin concentration camp -- artists, musicians, poets and writers -- fought back with art and music.

Led by conductor Raphael Schächter, a chorus of 150 inmates performed one of the world's most difficult and powerful choral works, Verdi's Requiem, a Catholic work re-imagined by imprisoned Jews as a condemnation of their captors. Ultimately, they performed for Nazi senior officers and the International Red Cross, singing what they dared not say. Six decades later, conductor Murry Sidlin and a new choir take Verdi's Requiem back to Terezin to reawaken this little known chapter of heroism and the resilience of the human spirit. Combining soaring concert footage, powerful survivor recollections, evocative animation, archival images and the prisoners' own artwork, this artistic uprising is brought to life in the Partisan Pictures' film DEFIANT REQUIEM: VOICES OF RESISTANCE, narrated by Bebe Neuwirth and premiering on Holocaust Remembrance Day, Sunday, April 7, 2013, 10:00-11:30 p.m. ET (check local listings) on PBS.

Just 40 miles west of Prague, the old fortress town of Terezin had been converted into a makeshift ―holding pen‖ for the Czech Jews during WWII. Within months, the town built for 6,000 people was bursting with nearly 60,000 Jewish inmates. An imprisoned conductor, Schächter rallied his fellow inmates with clandestine musical gatherings, and what began as a fight for survival soon exploded into a cultural rebellion. Artists captured the horrors around them on paper, playwrights staged plays with makeshift sets and costumes, composers wrote new compositions, and thousands of concerts and lectures provided late- night escape for inmates longing for a return to humanity.

This artistic uprising reached its peak when Schächter attempted a performance of one of the world's most demanding choral works, Verdi's Requiem, intended as a condemnation of the Nazis. Schächter painstakingly taught the Latin text, which promised divine judgment against evil, to his choir of 150, using a single smuggled score. They performed the Requiem 16 times for fellow prisoners, accompanied only by a single piano.

Eventually, the Nazis took notice of the artistic enclave at Terezin; rather than crush it, they twisted it to their own advantage. They invited the International Red Cross for a highly orchestrated visit to what they call a ―self-governed Jewish city‖ and cynically documented the town's makeover in an infamous propaganda film, The Führer Gives a City to the Jews. Following massive deportations, Schächter's choir had been reduced to 60, but they seized the opportunity to use their music to confront the Nazis under the gaze of the Red Cross delegation, desperately hoping their condemnation might pierce the painstakingly staged propaganda.

Now, 60 years later, conductor Murry Sidlin has realized his dream of bringing his own chorus to Terezin to honor Schächter and all those who were imprisoned in Terezin. In a former warehouse - where Nazi commandants once worked Jewish prisoners to their deaths - more than 160 young American singers and instrumentalists, along with an orchestra from Prague, gathered to perform Maestro Sidlin's concert drama The Defiant Requiem. To capture this extraordinary moment, producer Peter Schnall and Partisan Pictures filmed the historic concert with an international crew. Schnall and director/writer Doug Shultz used this powerful and moving performance to re-tell the story of Schächter, his chorus and Terezin.

For Schnall, his journey to this former Nazi concentration camp became more than just another filmic experience. During production, he learned, for the first time, that his own great-grandmother had died while imprisoned within the walls of Terezin.

DEFIANT REQUIEM: VOICES OF RESISTANCE producer: Partisan Pictures. Producers: Peter Schnall and Doug Shultz. Director/writer: Doug Shultz. Music director: Murry Sidlin. Editor: Mark Fason. Executive producers: Whitney Johnson and Peter Schnall. Associate producer: Adina Pliskin. Director of photography: Peter Schnall. Production manager: James Burke.

About Partisan Pictures: Founded by seven-time Emmy-winning producer and cinematographer Peter Schnall, Partisan Pictures is a pioneer in documentary film and television, with a reputation for producing insightful films - true stories distinguished by humanity, intrigue and integrity...and the highest network ratings. Since 1997 Partisan Pictures has been proud to have a world-class team of innovative writers and producers who constantly re-imagine how stories can be brought to life for the most respected non-fiction networks in television, including PBS, History Channel, Discovery and National Geographic Channel. From adventure and intrigue to science and history, Partisan Pictures brings big screen, cinematic technique to the small screen to create a visceral experience that connects audiences with the world.

About PBS PBS, with its nearly 360 member stations, offers all Americans the opportunity to explore new ideas and new worlds through television and online content. Each month, PBS reaches nearly 123 million people through television and more than 21 million people online, inviting them to experience the worlds of science, history, nature and public affairs; to hear diverse viewpoints; and to take front row seats to world-class drama and performances. PBS' broad array of programs has been consistently honored by the industry's most coveted award competitions. Teachers of children from pre-K through 12th grade turn to PBS for digital content and services that help bring classroom lessons to life. PBS' premier children's TV programming and its website, pbskids.org, are parents' and teachers' most trusted partners in inspiring and nurturing curiosity and love of learning in children. More information about PBS is available at www.pbs.org, one of the leading dot-org websites on the Internet, or by following PBS on Twitter, Facebook or through our apps for mobile devices. Specific program information and updates for press are available at pbs.org/pressroom or by following PBS Pressroom on Twitter.

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