German composer Gerda Herrmann was in her early 50s when she composed her first song; now 88-years-old, Herrmann has now written nearly 400 songs and is known throughout Germany as a composer and poet.
Get ready, America. You're about to meet Gerda Herrmann thanks to the efforts of filmmaker Alexander Tuschinski, whose 37-minute documentary The Songwriter of Botnang is getting ready for the film festival circuit and looks to introduce Herrmann to American audiences through the indie festival circuit.
The Songwriter of Botnang, or Die Liedermacherin von Botnang in German, is the first documentary about Herrmann, whose presence in the film is instantly engaging and whose infectious spirit completely draws you in. The same is true for Herrmann's composition, several of which are used throughout the film, as they fill the screen with a rhythm that stays with the film and seems to be the perfect companion for Herrmann's stories from past and present.
Since she started composing, Herrmann has written her nearly 400 pieces of music and presented many of them at concerts - surprisingly, and I'd imagine especially surprisingly for American audiences, she's often done so without any commercial intent. She's a creative spirit and The Songwriter of Botnang captures that creative spirit while telling the story of Herrmann's life journey, the power of music, and her childhood in Germany during World War II where her father was killed during an air raid by American forces while serving on the frontline.
While there are unquestionably dramatic stories contained within the framework of The Songwriter of Botnang, the film never becomes overwhelmed by them but is instead overwhelmed by the power of the human spirit and the ways in which creativity can advance us as individuals and as a society.
The Songwriter of Botnang recently had its world premiere at a screening in Stuttgart, however, the gifted Tuschinski now looks to expand the film's scope on the indie fest circuit while also hoping to introduce Herrmann to American audiences.
Herrmann herself is excited about the prospect.
The Songwriter of Botnang is a simple documentary really. It's rather straightforward and I'd almost call it quaint, though I'd mean that as a compliment and too often the word quaint is taken as a criticism.
It's just a film that I found incredibly endearing. Tuschinski wonderfully captures Herrmann's humanity and creativity and it's clear that he has more than a little affection for both the person of Herrmann and her incredible gifts. There's an improvisational spirit to the film that makes it often feel as if we're privy to a casual conversation, so naturally does Herrmann share photos, letters, and stories from throughout her life that are accompanied by a wealth of amazing detail and archival items.
There isn't a false note to be found in The Songwriter of Botnang, a statement that could also be very much said about Herrmann's always enjoyable compositions and her remarkable way of inviting others to participate in the creative journey. Celebrating Herrmann without an ounce of pretense, The Songwriter of Botnang is an engaging, warm, and winning documentary that should prove remarkably popular once it lands stateside. You'll definitely want to catch it if you get the chance.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic