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IKF Blog
Posted: Friday, September 18, 2015

Oscar-nominated filmmaker showcases his documentaries

You meet the most interesting people at Ingleside at King Farm!

Like Ingleside at King Farm resident Werner Schumann, an award winning documentary filmmaker, perhaps best known for his Oscar-nominated short titled “The Klan: A Legacy of Hate in America.” Furthermore, he recently published “From Brownshirt to Turtleneck: Memoir of a Documentary Filmmaker.” The book details Werner’s remarkable life growing up in Germany under the Nazi regime, his emigration to America and his transformation into an accomplished documentary filmmaker.

Werner has treated his fellow residents at Ingleside at King Farm to showings and discussions about his films.

“That came about because in meeting people here and starting to make friends, one of them asked whether they could see any of my work,” Werner says. “I started with an autobiographical film, “One Man’s America,” about growing up in Germany, coming to this country and what it means to me.” The viewer suggested a showing of the film so others could see it. That led to a series of showings. After the first series was completed, Werner was asked to do it again for new residents and people who had missed some of the first series. He is now conducting a third cycle of film showings.

Werner worked with filmmaker Charges Guggenheim for years, making short films on commission.

“He and I had a lot of interesting projects come our way,” he says.

The Klan film still gets a strong reaction and, though 25 years old, still has relevance, especially in light of the recent controversy in South Carolina over the Confederate battle flag.

“Some of the specifics obviously are dated, but that doesn’t seem to stop people from being very moved by it,” Werner says.

Nevertheless, Werner doesn’t consider it his best film. That would be “The Eye of Jefferson,” a 28-minute film that explores how Thomas Jefferson contributed to American art and architecture and focuses on his aesthetic, as expressed in his designs for Monticello and the University of Virginia. Another film he considers important is “Seeking Justice,” a film about the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The most difficult film to make was “Who Should Survive,” a 1971 film sponsored by the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation that was produced for an international conference dealing with ethics in medical research. The film concerned the birth of a child with Down’s Syndrome who also had an obstruction blocking the connection of the stomach to the small intestine. The problem was easy to correct with surgery, but the parents declined to permit the operation. The baby died of starvation in the hospital about two weeks later. Making it was a highly emotional experience for everyone involved. The 7-minute film was used as the keynote for the conference, and when Werner retired, it was still being used in teaching hospitals.

A film Werner made for the 1984 World Expo in New Orleans presented the most difficult technical challenges. The film, commissioned by the U.S. Commerce Department for the U.S. Pavilion, focused on the expo’s theme: water, the source of life. The film had to be made in 3-D with special cameras and required aerial shots of rivers, dams and patterns of water across the country. At the time, the only theater that could project it was in Pasadena, Calif. While finishing the film Werner had to fly there every time he needed to view it during the editing process.

“Documentary filmmaking is not a 9-to-5 job,” he says. “It’s totally consuming. You develop ideas as you go and you continually ponder whether there’s a better way to do it. It’s complex because you are dealing with a lot of elements.”

Werner left Guggenheim Productions in 1989 and started his own business. He retired in 2006. His memoir, published earlier this year, came about because he wanted his children and grandchildren and future generations to know about their family.

“I know very little about my parents’ youth and my grandparents,” he says. “While I’ve shared a lot over the years with my children and grandchildren, it will mean more to them in later years.”

When completed, the book took on its own life, and he decided to put it out to the world.

And it’s a fascinating story. Werner was born in Germany in 1930. The book vividly describes his life in Berlin during most of World War II and the difficult postwar years before he emigrated to America and became an acclaimed filmmaker.

Werner and his wife Elizabeth lived for 32 years in Cabin John, Md.

As they grew older, he says, “We recognized that sooner or later one of us might not be able to live in the house. There were a lot of stairs involved, and the upkeep required too much of us. And I certainly was never happy with any of the contract maintenance and repair work.”

True to his nature, Werner thoroughly investigated retirement options.

While they were touring Ingleside at King Farm, a staff member introduced the couple to a resident and her husband, who invited them to come in and see their apartment. That gave them a good idea of what it felt like to live at the retirement community. They loved the apartment homes they saw, and they were also impressed with the mood and spirit of the community.

They settled into their beautiful new home in 2010 and almost immediately became engaged with the community. Werner has served on several committees and chaired the Building and Grounds committee. He and Elizabeth enjoy playing bridge and have made many good friends.

“It is a really wonderful community,” Werner says. “There is an enormous variety of opportunities for learning or just being entertained that I think is really extraordinary.” Not to mention that Werner provides some of those opportunities himself.

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