Nearly a century onward from the Holocaust, filmmaker Tod Lending figured every story about the atrocity that claimed the lives of 6 million Jews had already been told. That was until he heard about Saul Dreier and Ruby Sosnowicz. The two, who reside in South Florida, survived the religious persecution of the Nazi regime and went on to form a klezmer act the Holocaust Survivor Band 70 years later.
After learning about the musical duo, Lending traveled to their Coconut Creek and Delray Beach homes to introduce himself. Dreier and Sosnowicz took a liking to Lending and allowed him to film their musical adventures over the next two and a half years. The result is the touching Saul & Ruby, to Life! — a feature-length documentary that will premiere this Thursday night, opening the 23rd edition of the Miami Jewish Film Festival.
Lending says he wasn't exactly sure the direction of Saul & Ruby when he began filming. "I specialize in longitudinal documentaries," he says. "I follow people for years, so I go in with an open mind. There will be twists you can never imagine. You don't try to manipulate things."
One tragic turn that occurred during filming was the passing of Dreier's and Sosnowicz's longtime wives. A positive curveball was the elderly musicians' decision to return to their birthplace of Poland to perform songs of love and happiness on a continent they had to flee the previous century.
"They extended their own vision of what they could do as I filmed," Lending says.
Because of their advanced age (Dreier is now 95, and Sosnowicz is 90), Lending couldn't afford to waste any time in filming their story. He ultimately became a one-man crew of director, writer, producer, editor, and cinematographer.
"I never had so many job titles," he says. "There was no time to do serious fundraising upfront. Over the years, I had saved a development fund. I knew eventually there would be a passion project like this one to dip into it."
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The investment of time and money seems to be paying off: Samuel Goldwyn Films already picked up the movie for U.S. distribution after it plays festivals, and Lending says the resiliency of his subjects continues to inspire him.
While much of Saul & Ruby, to Life! follows on the pair's music, Lending had to ask the two tough questions of what life was like for Polish Jews during World War II. "Ruby was difficult to get details from. He doesn't remember much since he was so young. His daughter thinks things happened that prevented him from remembering. Saul was a real eye opener. I asked him to what extent his survival was due to sly cunning or instinct. He said it was all luck and a miracle. He had story after story of how lucky he was to survive."
Though the movie ends with a triumphant concert, Lending says that like many musical supergroups before them, Dreier and Sosnowicz have lately been performing only their solo projects. "They're still friendly, but like many bands, they had disagreements." But because both men are scheduled to appear at the Aventura premiere of their film, a musical reunion isn't entirely out of the question. "I'm not sure if I'm supposed to say anything, but it's possible."
Saul & Ruby, to Life! 7 p.m. Thursday, January 9, at Aventura Arts & Cultural Center, 3385 NE 188th St., Aventura; and the Palace Coral Gables, 1 Andalusia Ave., Coral Gables. Advance tickets are sold out; rush line admission to the Coral Gables screening costs $36 cash at the door. Visit miamijewishfilmfestival.org for more information.