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HEPHZIBAH

Australia, 1998 (MIFF 1998, Australian Showcase)

Director: Curtis Levy

Curtis Levy's documentary traces the public and private life of Hephzibah Menuhin, celebrated equally as a concert pianist and human rights worker. When her brother, internationally acclaimed violinist Yehudi Menuhin, married Australian heiress Nola Nicholas, Hephzibah soon after wed Nola's brother, Lindsay. Hephzibah and Lindsay moved to the Nicholas family property, a remote sheep station in western Victoria. In Prague to give a concert after WWII, Hephzibah visited the notorious Theresienstadt concentration camp, a moment which changed her life forever. She eventually left her husband and two sons and moved to London with a Viennese sociologist, Richard Hauser, with whom she founded the Centre for Human Rights.

For the film, Levy was granted special access to Hephzibah's letters and diaries. His handling of them is sensitive and never out of context, constructing a vivid picture of her extraordinary spirit in less than ordinary circumstances. Hephzibah was a risk taker who wanted to break down fences rather than sit on them. She ignored the conventions of established society to right the wrongs of the world. Those left behind accused her of naivete but for Hephzibah, working at the grass roots gave her much more satisfaction than simply being a virtuoso performer.

Curtis Levy, a veteran documentary maker adept at representing difficult issues on screen, embraces Hephzibah with a lasting respect befitting the subject's own life. An important Australian documentary charting a life largely unexamined until now.

Curtis Levy's early documentaries include ten films made with Aboriginal communities in the mid-1970s. Breakout (1984), covering the mass suicide breakout by Japanese prisoners of war at Cowra, received the Best Documentary Award at the Chicago International Film Festival. His four films about Indonesia, including Riding the Tiger (1993), won the ATOM Award for Best Documentary Series. Levy is currently working on a film about the police shooting of Roni Levi on Bondi Beach.

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