May 3, 2009 - I planned on attending a screening of an excerpt of a work in progress, a documentary on "The Story of Urva K.," called "A Fortunate Life," at the LGBT Community Center, ever since a friend forwarded an email to me announcing the event, which was held on April 24.
I had casually known Urva Kissa, before she died last year, from the small gay communities of Cherry Grove, Fire Island, and Greenwich Village, New York City. She was always warmly friendly and, though I had no idea why someone would be making a film of her life, I wanted to attend the fund-raising evening to show my support for the lesbian filmmaker and the creative process.
There was an enthusiastic SRO crowd in the Lerner Auditorium, room 301, on the elevator-accessible third floor of the renovated Center. Along with many others in attendance, I was unaware that an entire evening of readings and entertainment was to precede the screening of the documentary excerpt and yet the audience remained, with reactions from politely appreciative to raucously applauding, while we listened to readings from Joan Larkin, Eileen Myles, Ilene Starger and Phyllis Witte, along with vocal renditions by Reuben Butchart and Gisella Montanez-Case.
All of the slate of published writers read excerpts from anthologies, which were very well received. I, along with the audience, took particular note of Joan Larkin's "My Body," from the 1980s anthology of the same name, and Phyllis Witte's "The Book of Esther, the Other Book," scheduled to be published later this year.
Reuben Butchart sang and played his own piano accompaniment to "Falling In Love Again," announced as Urva's favorite song.
The audience was treated to a vocal presentation by Gisella Montanez-Case, accompanied by Paul Johnson. Gisella thrilled me to gooseflesh with her amazing soprano and thoroughly-at-ease rapport. Although I am far from an opera buff, I identified the two arias she sang Puccini's "Vissi d'arte," from "Tosca," and "O mio babbino caro," from "Gianni Schicchi." Her voice was totally unforced, with a full rich tone, and remarkable clarity. The audience followed each rendition with a spontaneous standing ovation, which then afforded us the additional pleasure of Gisella singing, as an encore, the aria "Summertime" from the 1935 opera "Porgy and Bess," composed by George Gershwin with lyrics by Ira Gershwin and DuBose Heyward, after DuBose and Dorothy K. Heyward's play "Porgy."
All of the readings and songs hardly prepared the eager audience for the tactile excitement when the excerpt of the documentary began. I cannot ascertain what anyone else anticipated, but my expectations were greatly exceeded, not only by the actual story, but also by the very accessible manner in which it was presented. There were interviews with friends, co-workers, and Urva herself. There were still photos of the pre-World War Two origins of Urva Kissa and her family in Estonia, as well as additional archival photos of Dachau concentration camp, the bombardment of Plauen, Germany, and a displaced persons camp. The additional information on Urva's life and story tells of hope in the midst of horror and the triumph of the spirit and a learned lightness of being, born of escaping death and destruction as a concentration camp survivor and child refugee. This is a film about an attitude, the Story of Urva K.
Janice Wilde is the filmmaker making the documentary and the audience, attending the showing of a portion of the work in progress, was asked to donate and support the completion of the documentary. After the very warmly received viewing, many people stated that they would do outreach to enhance the fundraising process and I indicated that I would write this article, to be posted on the Internet.
The project is fiscally sponsored by the IFP (Independent Feature Project) 501(c)(3) and, to make a donation, you can go directly to the website http://www.fiscalsponsorship.ifp.org/Project.cfm?ProjectID=8 or send a check-made payable to IFP Fiscal Sponsorship, with "A Fortunate Life" in the memo portion-by mail to: Mr. Rupert Chiarella, Fiscal Sponsorship Manager-IFP, 68 Jay Street, Suite 425, Brooklyn NY 11201..