Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Jewish Sports Hall of Fame: Skate To Survive

Skate to Survive is a one hour documentary about the artistry and struggle of Canadian figure skating coach and choreographer Ellen Burka. The story is told by Ellen at home in Toronto and in Holland in conversation with her long time friends, international skating judge Elsbeth Bon and Louis van Gasteren, Dutch documentary filmmaker. The interviews filmed in Holland are in Dutch and German. The film focuses on the first 44 years of Ellen’s life.
We begin with Ellen’s carefree youth in Amsterdam and the thrill of discovering modern dance and figure skating. The challenge of this film was getting Ellen to recall her painful memories of the war stories that she kept hidden for years. She describes the deportation of her family and her own experiences surviving the concentration camps of Westerbork and Theresienstadt. We learn how Ellen met her future husband, Jan Burka in Theresienstadt and how they walked back to Holland to start life over.
Despite their successes in post-war Amsterdam, Jan’s survival instincts told him to go to Canada and leave Europe and the Cold War behind. Ellen did not want to leave Amsterdam. Ellen describes her life in Toronto in the 1950’s and 1960’s as a single mother and how she made a career of figure skating despite the prejudices of the time. Ellen hid her war experiences and background from her two daughters until they were 16 and 18 years old. We hear how she coached her daughter Petra to World Figure Skating Champion and revolutionized the style of skating with her student Toller Cranston.
Family photos and Ellen’s skating scrap books hidden during the war by Elsbeth, recently found film footage of Ellen and Elsbeth skating in the 1930’s and 1940’s, and Super 8 skating movies of Petra and Ellen visually capture the times. Strauss waltzes and music composed for jazz and piano and violin recreate the atmosphere of the past.
Ellen Burka received the Order of Canada in 1978 “ for elevating skating to an art form and for imaginative choreography on ice”.

1 comment:

Jan said...

What an amazing life.
p.s. been watching the Games on TV (skating in particular) until the early hours almost daily - I'm tired, but it's worth it. x