Heroes without uniforms

Gerda Taro, Portrait of Robert Capa, Segovia front, May 1937. © 2002 International Center of Photography. International Center of Photography

Fans of serious documentary filmmaking will have plenty to get their teeth into this month, as Upstate Films marks the Veterans’ Day season with presentations of two substantial works on the subject of war and the remarkable courage of non-combatants. This Sunday, November 11, Upstate’s Woodstock theatre will host a free event consisting of a matinée screening of Anne Makepeace’s 2003 epic American Masters: Robert Capa in Love & War, followed by a discussion with the filmmaker herself. And the following Friday evening, Upstate’s flagship theatre in Rhinebeck will screen Orchestra of Exiles (2011) by Oscar-nominated director Josh Aronson (Sound and Fury), with both Aronson himself and Bard College president/American Symphony Orchestra conductor Leon Botstein, who appears in the film, on hand to talk about it afterwards.

Born Endre Ernő Friedmann in Budapest in 1913, Robert Capa earned a reputation as the “greatest war photographer in the world” in a short, meteoric career that covered five major world conflicts – the Spanish Civil War, the Second Sino-Japanese War, the European Theatre of World War II, the 1948 Arab-Israeli War and the First Indochina War, often on assignment for Life magazine – before being killed by a land mine at age 40 in Vietnam. He hung out with Hemingway and Picasso, toured the Soviet Union with John Steinbeck and turned down an offer of marriage from Ingrid Bergman. He was one of the five eminent co-founders of Magnum Photos, the first cooperative agency for worldwide freelance photographers.


Although he’s probably best-remembered today for being the only photojournalist to capture the Allied landing on Omaha Beach in Normandy on D-Day, Capa’s behind-the-lines photos from Spain in the 1930s – where the great love of his life, fellow war photographer Gerda Taro, perished in a battle – first made him world-famous. But he left most of his portfolio of negatives from the Spanish Civil War behind in Europe when he fled the Nazis in 1939, and they were long presumed lost. Somehow a suitcase full of these images turned up in Mexico City in the 1990s, and in 2007 they were returned to the archive of his life’s work at the International Center of Photography in Manhattan, founded by his brother Cornell Capa.

Fortunately, some 70,000 images from Robert Capa’s whirlwind career remain preserved today, and director Makepeace was afforded unprecedented access to these archives for the creation of Robert Capa in Love & War. Among the survivors whom she interviewed for the film were Capa’s Magnum colleague Henri Cartier-Bresson and Bergman’s daughter, Isabella Rossellini. The screening begins at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday, and the movie runs 90 minutes. Thanks to a grant from the Ulster County Cultural Service & Promotion Fund, admission is free.

Another character distinguished by his behind-the-scenes heroics during World War II was Bronislaw Huberman, a celebrated Polish violinist who helped save the cream of the crop of Europe’s Jewish musicians from being rounded up and killed by the Nazis.

In the early 1930s Hitler began forcing Jewish musicians out of orchestras all across central Europe. Finding so many experienced players jobless simultaneously, Huberman dedicated himself to fulfilling his dream to create a symphony. With help from such influential allies as Arturo Toscanini and Albert Einstein, Huberman managed to save close to 1,000 highly talented Jews by moving them to Palestine, where he founded his orchestra, today known as the Israeli Philharmonic.

Orchestra of Exiles tells the story of Huberman’s audacious plan and its happy outcome. Itzhak Perlman, Zubin Mehta, Pinchas Zukerman and Joshua Bell are among the musical luminaries interviewed by director Aronson for this film, along with Botstein. The documentary runs 85 minutes; as of presstime, the starting time for the screening on Friday, November 16 was still “to be announced,” so check the Upstate Films website at https://upstatefilms.org/special-events to confirm, or call (845) 876-2515.

American Masters: Robert Capa in Love & War screening & discussion with Anne Makepeace, Sunday, November 11, 1:30 p.m., free, Upstate Films, 6415 Montgomery St., Rhinebeck; Orchestra of Exiles screening & discussion with Josh Aronson & Leon Botstein, Friday, November 16, time T/B/A, $8.50 general admission, $7 seniors/students, $5 members, Upstate Films, 132 Tinker St., Woodstock; (845) 876-2515, https://upstatefilms.org/special-events.