by director Alison Chernick
Taking on a subject such as Itzhak Perlman is no easy task. The more celebrated the subject, the more pressure there is to deliver in a manner that justifies his legacy. Aside from this daunting factor, one thing was clear—I would have the most beautiful soundtrack in town.
I've done previous films on contemporary artists such as Jeff Koons, Matthew Barney, Martin Margiela, Roy Lichtenstein and other complex characters. What I learned from those experiences was the importance of feeling free in my creative process. No one said it better than the late Albert Maysles, "To understand your vision early on is like asking an infant what they want to be when they grow up." In other words, you need to first experience your subject, digest it—and allow for the magic to happen. Find the beauty in between the lines. Each film's style and structure will be unique to its subject. With Itzhak, there were plenty of those magic moments, my job was to help them along, set the stage and allow for that space to blossom. Capture it and then effectively translate it onto the screen.
For me, what became transparent after seeing my footage, over and over again, were themes of Jewish identity, Jewish history, humor, love, love for life, love between Itzhak and Toby and of course a shared love for music. These themes all emerged as unique storylines that would resonate independently.
An important creative decision for me was to avoid interviews with contemporaries lauding on about how terrific he is. Despite how endearing a subject he is, the goal of the project was not to make a love letter film with copious amounts of treacle. I wanted the viewer to experience what makes Itzhak special rather than be told so. I knew with his gregarious personality this was achievable and that this would ultimately provide the audience with the intimacy that is most rewarding in documentaries—something with more emotion and depth than anything a series of "talking heads" could deliver. And through this intimate unraveling we can see for ourselves the components and character that combine to create his ability to perform at such an exceptional level. The sound Itzhak generates comes from his heart and flows through his hands and in this film we come to realize how extraordinary this process really is.
Finally...the edit room. The best-kept secret of documentary filmmaking is that this is where it all comes together. My editor and I worked tirelessly and collaboratively to find our story. We broke typical structure standards and searched for the poetry that felt necessary to deliver this story. After hours, days and months of obsessing through the creative process, I hope that I delivered a portrait that accurately reflects the beauty, significance and wonder of this unique man.