Film

Inner Richmond Couple’s Film ‘Los Hermanos/The Brothers’ on PBS Oct. 1, 2021

By Noma Faingold

“We’re partners in film and life,” said Marcia Jarmel describing herself and her husband of 26 years, Ken Schneider. It sounds like a reel tagline for a documentary the duo might produce and direct. But it is for real.

For more than 30 years, Jarmel lived in the Inner Richmond (the last 27 with Schneider), conceiving, producing and editing numerous documentaries in their home office. They also raised a family. Mica Jarmel-Schneider is now 25 and living in Noe Valley, while Jaden Jarmel-Schneider, 21, is a senior at Columbia University.

Filmmakers Marcia Jarmel and Ken Schneider. Courtesy photo.

In March, the filmmakers left the City and have been leading a nomadic existence in the East Bay. 

“All the films we made together were out of our home office,” Schneider said. “Documentary film offices are a phone and a computer. Producing happens on the phone. We edited in the living room and sometimes just off the kitchen.”

Through their company, Patchwork Films, their latest project, “Los Hermanos/The Brothers,” has been making the festival rounds in the last year. Like all indie films, rollouts have been somewhat hampered by COVID restrictions. Some screenings have been in person and others were virtual. 

On Oct. 1, PBS will air the film about two Cuban musician brothers, separated by a restrictive political climate for years and touchingly (though temporarily) reunited to create, collaborate and simply be a family.

The documentary explores the parallel lives of Afro-Cuban-born brothers, violinist Ilmar Gavilán (who studied as a teenager in Moscow and later immigrated to the United States) and younger brother pianist/composer Aldo López-Gavilán. Ilmar lives in New York and Aldo lives in Havana. When President Barack Obama began the process of normalizing relations between the U.S. and Cuba at the end of 2014, a window of opportunity opened for the two brothers to see each other and realize their dream of performing and recording together. 

Cuban-born brothers Ilmar Gavilán, left, and Aldo López-Gavilán reunited for a U.S. during the filming of the documentary, “Los Hermanos/The Brothers.” Courtesy photo.

“Los Hermanos/The Brothers” captures the period from 2016 to 2018 when the brothers visit each other’s homes, tour the U.S. together and record in a studio. The eclectic musical collaboration, which incorporates jazz, classical and Americana genres, is compelling and inspiring. 

The film also chronicles the period when diplomatic doors close during the Trump years. There is a scene before the 2016 election where the brothers are watching Trump on television and nervously look at each other and conclude that he would not get elected. 

The grand launch plan by Jarmel and Schneider was to showcase the music, including the film’s score composed by Aldo. They hoped to have a tour coincide with a theatrical release of the film, as well as partner with non-profit music organizations with screenings to bring awareness to inequities in the art form. 

“In our (documentary film) world, it’s called impact work,”  Jarmal said. “It’s about films supporting organizations related to social ills – like representation – who’s on stage and who are the composers.”

Plans got derailed. “Trump slammed shut that door that Obama had cracked open,” Schneider said. “And then COVID hit.”

“Los Hermanos/The Brothers” is the fourth Cuba-focused documentary for Patchwork Films. In 2014, it released, “Havana Curveball,” which had personal family touchstones in its story. Schneider’s original connection to Cuba came through his grandmother and father, who fled the Nazis during World War II. When the U.S. initially refused their entry, his family members were welcomed in Cuba, where they lived for two years. 

“I’ve traveled to Cuba every which way but swim,” said Schneider, who has visited the country 15 times in 10 years. 

“We love Havana. The culture is so diverse,” he said. “They place a tremendous value on the arts. It’s been wonderful to discover the classical, jazz and avant-garde music there.”

New York City native Jarmel and Los Angeles-born Schneider met at a weekend workshop at San Francisco State University. Neither were filmmakers at the time. Jarmel studied philosophy and journalism at the University of Colorado and Schneider majored in literature at UC Berkeley. One thing they did have in common was they wanted to tell stories.

They became collaborators before they were a couple. 

Their roles as filmmakers and at home were both equal and fluid, according to Schneider. Sometimes they would co-direct. Jarmel usually took on the producer role, which included getting the films seen. Schneider has done a lot of the writing and editing. “We have really different strengths,” said Jarmel. “We let each other use our strengths. We knew what needed to be done and how it needed to be done at home and at work.”

In all their years together, the pair have never taken on commercial work. Schneider admitted there have been economic challenges. 

“I work as a freelance editor (for other filmmakers). I’m always editing. I was tired for about nine straight years,” he said.

Jarmel recently took a position with the Jewish Film Institute as the Filmmakers Services Manager. 

“It’s my first job in decades,” she said. 

Don’t expect Jarmel and Schneider to slow down when it comes to creating future documentaries. 

“We have Post-its on the wall for three projects,” said Schneider. “But we’re still engaged in pushing out this film.”

“Los Hermanos/The Brothers” will air on PBS on Oct. 1. The film will be streaming on the PBS website throughout the month of October. The film will also be aired on KQED on Oct.22 at 10 p.m. For more information on streaming and screenings: www.patchworkfilms.net, https://www.hermanosbrothersfilm.info/ and on Twitter: @hermanosbrofilm.

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