Monday, 27 September 2021 12:13

NewTV Member Spotlight: Mariya Gershteyn

Written by Valerie Cavooris, Marketing & Communications Manager
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Longtime NewTV member Mariya Gershteyn was honored this year by the Alliance for Community Media. Mariya won the Hometown Media Award for Best Documentary Biography, Independent Producer for her film entitled Sophie’s Melody.

MariyaAward SMThis is not Mariya’s first endeavor as a documentarian capturing the biography and works of an artist. “Most of my documentaries were about writers, poets, and poetry,” she reports. Sophie’s Melody is, however, Mariya’s first project about a visual artist, so she strove to incorporate the works of art into her storytelling. “…I used all my efforts to portray Sonya’s vision through her paintings, illustrations, and graphics,” Mariya explains. “I wanted to show the viewer how different cultures coexist in one’s fate and soul, contrasted on a backdrop of a tumultuous era of change and zeitgeist.”


A Cultural Connection

According to Mariya, “The film Sophie’s Melody introduces the history of a family through the life and work of artist Sonya Schiller.” She describes her work as, “A kaleidoscope of history,” and goes on to list just a few of the circumstances turned about and mirrored within that kaleidoscope: a Jewish shtetl, Zionists in Odessa at the start of the century, Moscow artists in the sixties, the first settlers of Israel, and Boston through the eyes of an immigrant. “The reflections and images of the artist bring forth contemplation on one’s own history and destiny,” she expounds.

Mariya’s primary inspiration was Sonya’s family history – the events, challenges, ideas, achievements, and creative works provided a deeper meaning within the context of the film. “I think that family history is an important topic because it is the source of connection with the fate of a nation and History as a whole,” begins Mariya. “The fate of the film’s heroine Sonya Schiller, and the story of her family, are both strangely unique and typical of the generation. In her art, we can notice the ‘Thaw’ of Soviet Russia following the Cold War era, and of the subsequent emigration and search for one’s own voice in a new country.”

Mariya explains that many Russian Jews feel a profound connection to Russia, Israel, and America; Sonya Schiller was no exception. As such, it was important to Mariya that some of the scenes and interviews were filmed on-location in the regions involved in Sonya’s story. Of course, planning shoots in Russia and Israel introduced some major challenges. “It was not easy to organize the work abroad, but both luck and persistence enabled successful shoots,” Mariya says.
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Hard Work & Hard Choices

Condensing a century’s worth of interviews, photos, archival footage, and more into an hour-long documentary presented its own unique set of challenges. “It was a difficult process of selection since much had to be left out,” Mariya laments. “Fortunately,” she continues, “the easiest part was the choice of the original theme music for the film. Melody was composed by the wonderful composer Albert Markov and reflects authentic feelings resonant with the overall feel of the film.”

Many long hours and a great deal of hard work went into the making of Sophie’s Melody. When she learned that her labors were being recongnized by the Alliance for Community Media, Mariya told us she was “very delighted” to be nominated and to win the award. “The first thing I did was call all the people who were involved to share in the achievement and celebratory mood. I am thankful for all the support from NewTV, my family, and all the participants,” she says.

What’s next for Mariya? Is Sophie’s Melody her last hurrah, or will she continue to tell meaningful stories through film? “As in Sonya’s final monologue in the film, I am now in the contemplative stage; with the percolations and intuitions about my next work being anything but concrete – too fragile and undefined to put into words quite yet,” Mariya says enigmatically. It certainly sounds like there will be more to come from Masha Film…  And we can hardly wait to see it!

Visit Mariya's website for more:


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