Here are three outstanding examples, represented in film: a documentary, a feature film, and a film created by a teacher and her students.
Director Tom Walters, USA
Director Walters documents the extraordinary life of Wachtang “Botso” Korisheli, perhaps a stranger to you, but a strong personality and influential teacher. Born 1922 in Tbilisi, Georgia, in the former Soviet Republic, his parents were successful actors in the state theater. Life turned tragic with the arrival of Joseph Stalin. His KGB men arrested Botso’s father for freely sharing his opinion of the new government. They threw him into prison and executed him in 1936. Botso was drafted into the army during World War II, captured by the Nazis in Poland, and put into a work camp. At war’s end he connected with the Americans and immigrated to California. There his life became bearable and he enrolled in college. He was a blessed musician, as well as artist, talented in sculpture and painting. He spoke several languages including German. Career-wise the sky was the limit, and what did he decide to do? He became a music teacher with pupils of all ages. He also taught sculpture at a local high school, and made works of art for his own pleasure. He founded the San Luis Obispo Youth Symphony orchestra.
Walters made the film in eight years as funding arrived in small doses. It ends with Botso at age 92, but looking much younger. We see him teach young people, and then again the same students, five years later, still eager to learn from Botso. For his 90th birthday, 65 of them returned from careers around the world to organize a unique orchestra to present a special concert for their master. One such student was Japanese-American Kent Nagano, from California, now head of the Hamburg opera house. He began taking lessons from Botso at age eight. Nagano helped with the organization of the special orchestra and with the making of this film. His exceptionally gifted young daughter is the soloist in this presentation. Director Walters was present for Q & A at Metropolis cinema and was sorry to report that Botso had died a few months earlier at age 93. Nagano also came for Q &A to tell us personally about this extraordinary teacher with so much influence on so many lives. Botso’s motto, which he learned from his father, while visiting him just before his execution, was, “When you go to bed each night, ask yourself: have I done enough?”
Bach in Brazil
Ansgar Ahlers, Germany/Brazil
In this excellent feature film Martin, a retired teacher, inherits an original page of manuscript by J.S. Bach. He must pick up this inheritance in person in Brazil. Once there, he realizes that language is a problem, especially after his papers and the manuscript are stolen. A young man, Candido, agrees to help him, but only if Martin leaves retirement, so to speak, and teaches music to youngsters in a juvenile detention center. These kids are older than their years, used to fending for themselves. They have never had an opportunity to develop anything except a sense for survival; they have a natural talent for music. Martin opens new worlds –figuratively: a new world in music and literally: a new world in Germany where they travel for a performance. The ending is predictable but the transformation of the street children and Martin’s knowledge gained from them are uplifting.
Dorothea Kleffner-Witkowski and Marc Witkowski, Germany
This feature film played in the Michel children’s film festival section. It is not about teachers, but was written by Dorothea Kleffner-Witkowski, a high-school German teacher in Altona, and her students in Hamburg. In class they worked out a script, based on their own experiences. When it was finished to their satisfaction, it went to producer-director Marc Witkowski, husband of Dorothea. Zwischenstand is their third film to be made in this way. It stars Michael Mainoo who plays David, a 16-year-old African student who is living with his adopted Hamburg family: a mother and her young daughter, Sara; unfortunately the father has died. These various traumas affect David’s grades. He is moved from a Gymnasium to a so-called Stadtteilschule with fellow students from different backgrounds, where he suffers from mobbing. His best friend seems to be a Turkish boy, who stands up for him and allows him to hang around with his group of friends. All is well until David falls in love with the Turkish sister, Lela, definitely not allowed in Turkish circles. David realizes that his real friend is Lucas from his former school.
Both Witkowskis were available for festival blogs, Q & A, and interviews by youngsters, working as journalists. They discussed their film about students, mobbing, refugees, and racial prejudices. Marc Witkowski said that actual filming was for two weeks during a school holiday; all actors were students and friends. They managed on a three-thousand-euro budget, most of which went for food for the actors (“Teenagers eat a lot.”) This is definitely a couple to watch in the future and definitely a huge opportunity for high-school students to participate in an extraordinary film class. Their films are available at www.schizoproductions.de.