Director Barry Avirch’s Oscar Peterson: Black + White is a tribute to the legendary Canadian jazz pianist. The story of Oscar Peterson is told through archival photos, performances and interview footage along with present day interviews with musicians, historians, as well as Peterson’s wife Kelly. Talking heads include Billy Joel, Quincy Jones, Jon Batiste and more.
Avrich refers to the film as a “docuconcert” because throughout jazz musicians perform Peterson’s best known work, including Hymn to Freedom and Orange Colored Sky. The musical arrangements match the trio or quartet structure Peterson played from and the piano used is Peterson’s own. The documentary chronicles Peterson’s rise to fame, his extraordinary skill, his mentorship of other musicians, his devotion to his home country of Canada and personal struggles he faced including failed marriages and racism.
While Avrich’s film is informative it’s also heavily biased. At times the film felt like an advertisement more than a well-rounded documentary. With that said, I really enjoy Avrich’s documentaries, particularly Prosecuting Eviland Blurred Lines. There is so much detail and so much research that goes into his documentaries and it truly shows. The documentary-concert hybrid style adds to the enjoyment of the film.
Oscar Peterson: Black + White had its world premiere at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival.
Prosecuting Evil: The Extraordinary World of Ben Ferencz
dir. Barry Avrich
99-year-old Ben Ferencz is the last surviving Nuremberg prosecutor. At the tender age of 27 and at the very beginning of his career as a lawyer, Ferencz went head-to head with some of the most notorious Nazi criminals of WWII. Born in Romania to Hungarian Jews, Ferencz and his family fled Transylvania for asylum in the United States. Raised on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, teachers quickly took noticed of the gifted young Ferencz. He went on to study in the City College of New York and Harvard Law School and during WWII where he served abroad in an anti-aircraft artillery unit before he was transferred to Gen. Patton’s Third Army where he investigated war crimes and visited concentration camps to collect evidence. Horrified by what he saw, he made it his lifelong mission to give back to humanity by prosecuting international crimes.
Director Barry Avrich’s newest documentary Prosecuting Evil, covers the whole scope of Ferencz’s life and career through interviews with colleagues, Ferencz’s son and Ferencz himself. It also includes archival footage from the Nuremberg trials and disturbing images from the Holocaust. Ferencz has been a tireless champion for humankind and even at the age of 98, when this doc was filmed, there were no signs of stopping. Ferencz has an important message from the past to deliver to the future. This can and is happening again. We must fight for humanity.
Prosecuting Evil is a beautiful and poignant documentary about one of the most important living figures from WWII. My heart swelled with emotion and I left the theater very moved. Ferencz is fierce and fearless. He’s a sweet man but not someone you want to mess with. If you have any interest in the history of WWII or humanitarian efforts of if you’ve heard of Ferencz and want to learn more about him, this documentary is essential viewing.
I attended a press and industry screening of Prosecuting Evil at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival.