26 February Film: The Song Searcher: The Times and Toils of Moyshe Beregovsky, 8pm (meeting in person)

This film, directed by one of Russia’s leading documentary film makers, Yelena Yakovich, is the story of a man’s lifelong search for authentic Yiddish folk music and of his unique archive. Moyshe Beregovsky, a musician and scholar, criss-crossed Ukraine with phonograph in hand during the most dramatic years of Soviet history in order to record and study the traditional music of Ukrainian Jewry. Presumed to be lost forever, his archive was only recently discovered on hundreds of fragile wax cylinders in Kiev. His work began in the 1920’s and led to his arrest and imprisonment in a Stalinist labour camp in 1950, while most of those whose songs he recorded were ultimately shot and tossed into mass graves. Although Beregovsky succeeded in saving the musical heritage of Ukraine’s Jews, the personal price he paid was high. Filmed on location in Ukraine and Eastern Europe, and loaded with rare, unique video-footage and archival audio materials, this film is much more than an account of Moyshe Beregovsky’s life and work. Using haunting historical images, it tells the story of how Beregovsky and his fellow ethnomusicologists rescued Yiddish song before it was practically silenced in the Soviet Union. The music is heard throughout the film, either in its original archival version or performed live by some of the best contemporary klezmer musicians. The same team very recently made a subsequent audio documentary, Yiddish Glory. It is a remarkable programme and can be heard by accessing BBC Sounds on https://www.bbco.uk/programmes/m001h56n. It tells of the 1.5 million Jews transported by the Soviet Union to Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan during the War and of the songs, many of which were adapted to the situation which Jews found themselves in beyond the Urals, and which were sent back to Beregovsky in Kiev for safekeeping.

The screening will be introduced by Dr Phil Alexander, who will also be happy to discuss the film and any questions that may arise after the screening. Phil is well known to many of us in Edinburgh for his performance of klezmer, both with and without his quintet Moyshe’s Bagel, as well as tango and ‘salsa celtica’. He is an ethnomusicologist who received his PhD from SOAS, following his examination of klezmer music and performance in Berlin. He is currently a British Academy Fellow at the University of Edinburgh, where he studies historical Scottish-Jewish musical interactions.

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Filed under 5783 / 2022-23 Programme

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