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#HotDocs22 Review: How Saba Kept Singing

May 6, 2022

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

The 2022 Hot Docs Film Festival runs from April 28th to May 8th in Toronto, more information on tickets and showtimes can be found right here.

Director Sara Taksler’s touching documentary How Saba Kept Singing introduces us to Holocaust survivor David Wisnia. David, whose family affectionately calls him Saba, survived for three years at Auschwitz-Birkenau as a teenager while other prisoners were sent to the gas chamber or transferred to different camps. Taksler’s film recounts the remarkable story of how stayed alive, including singing for the guards in exchange for his life, while being fully aware of the death around him by the smoke from the chimneys.

When we first meet David in the film, he is a spirited 94-year-old who describes himself as a “lover of life.” His optimism and sense of humour is one of the most extraordinary things about him considering his harrowing background. The film follows David as he returns to Poland to visit Auschwitz in honour of the 70th anniversary of the camp’s liberation, and tours with his grandson Avi Wisnia, performing traditional Jewish songs. The purpose of these performances is to ensure that the six million Jews who died in the Holocaust aren’t forgotten, and to battle rising antisemitism in the modern era.

David’s story of survival at Auschwitz is told in the film through animated flashbacks that help the history come alive in a very illustrative way. Among the revelations is that he had a secret affair with a female prisoner at the concentration camp, a slightly older woman named Helen “Zippi” Spitzer, who provided companionship and may have helped him stay alive. David lost touch with her after the war, and the film brings her story to light as well as he seeks closure decades later.

If Taksler’s filmmaking approach feels a little too straight-forward at times, How Saba Kept Singing works as an emotional documentary that is hard not to be moved by in the end. It shares a powerful story of survival and resilience in the face of the harshest circumstances, showing how hate can take root, but love is much stronger. David is a testament to that.

Screenings:

Sunday, May 1st – 2:30 PM at TIFF Bell Lightbox 1

Friday, May 6th – 11:00 AM at TIFF Bell Lightbox 2

Sunday, May 8th – 2:00 PM at TIFF Bell Lightbox 1

The film is also available to stream across Canada for five days starting on May 2nd at 9:00 AM.

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