Dir/scr. Yaron Zilberman.Is-Fr-Us. 2004. 80mins.
Science graduate YaronZilberman had never worked in film industry until he came across the story ofVienna's Jewish swimming team. The result is Watermarks, a lively andsurprisingly uplifting documentary set on the eve of World War Two.
Having already takenaudience awards at festivals in Vienna, Boston and Washington, it enjoys alimited theatrical release in the US through Kino International from Jan 21 andshould enjoy limited play elsewhere before a successful life on ancillary (inthe US HBO/Cinemax has rights).
Hakoach Vienna was a sportsclub created by the Jewish community in Vienna when their community wasrejected by everywhere else in town. Hoping to squash once and for all theclassic image of the weakling Jewish nerd, the idea worked spectacularly, firstwith a football team which enjoyed success in the 1920s, then with a women'sswimming team that held most Austrian records during the 1930s.
A source of pride to Jewsall over Europe, they insisted on wearing the Star of David on their sportsstrip right up until the moment when the Nazis dismantled the club in 1938 andthe team's legendary trainer, Zsigo Wertheimer, helped them to escape fromVienna.
Zilberman's general idea isto interview each of his subjects separately at their homes (in the US, UK orIsrael - only one returned to Austria but left when Kurt Waldheim, who servedunder the Nazis, was elected president) and then bring them together again forone more dip in the Vienna pool where they first distinguished themselves.
But putting this idea intopractice proves far from simple, and it is only three years later - duringwhich time one of the elderly interviewees dies - that the project finallymaterialises.
The picture owes its successfirst and foremost to the undaunted spirit of its subjects, none of who haslost their drive in the intervening six decades or so.
Their story, backed byarchive footage of the period, also offers a less than flattering portrait ofAustria then and now as a land which may have produced the likes of Freud,Mahler, Schnitzler or Werfel, but towards which many Jews still remainambivalent (Anne-Marie Pick, probably the most outspoken of Zilberman'sheroines, alleges that 'everybody knows 99% of the Austrians areanti-Semites').
The film ends with theVienna reunion, for which those now living in Israel are least enthusiastic, sounwilling are they to forgive or forget their treatment by a nation theyconsidered themselves to be a part of. Yet even they finally give in, mostlikely from a sense of curiosity if nothing else.
Prod cos: Zadig Prods, Yofi Films, Jetlag Prods
Int'l sales: Cinephil
Prods: Yaron Zilberman, YonathanIsrael
Cine: Tom Hurwitz
Ed: Yuval Shar, Ruben Korenfeld