Beverly Shaffer accepting her prize, Academy Awards, 1978

Beverly Shaffer

Beverly Shaffer's internationally-respected films have garnered over 40 awards during her career at the National Film Board, including an Oscar® for her sensitive portrayal of a disabled young girl in I'll Find a Way (1978). The film is one of ten titles in Shaffer's Children of Canada series which looks at children of varied backgrounds, cultures and lifestyles from across Canada.

Shaffer's film, Mr Mergler's Gift is a moving account of a student and her mentor, and a lyrical reflection on the transcendent power of music. Xin Ben is the young student pianist, the 9-year-old daughter of Chinese immigrants. A fateful encounter in a Montreal park has delivered her into the hands of Mr Mergler, a piano teacher nearing the end of his long career. She will be his last and most extraordinary pupil.

Mr Mergler's Gift, is a finely crafted film. It tells a story that touches many of us… the story of death and the gifts of life, and the role of special teachers in our lives.

Shaffer’s To My Birthmother 2002, follows Marie Klaassen in her search for her biological mother. Adopted at birth, Marie's quest to unravel the mystery of her origins and identity opens a Pandora’s Box of secrets and surprises. . At its premiere at the 26th Montreal World Film Festival, the Globe and Mail hailed To My Birthmother as an "emotionally jarring odyssey".

Just a Wedding, the sequel to the Oscar ®-winning I'll Find a Way, was completed in 1999. In Just a Wedding, Shaffer and Nadia DeFranco, the star of I'll Find a Way, collaborate to tell the romantic story of Nadia’s courtship and marriage to Dennis Sweet, a man she met on the Internet. Pushing the boundaries of the documentary form, Shaffer uses dramatic re-enactments featuring the film’s subjects in the starring roles. “Shaffer has found a true life character that Hollywood can only dream of,” wrote the Globe and Mail.

Other Shaffer credits include the Children of Jerusalem series, produced between 1991 and 1996, focusing on the lives of seven Palestinian and Israeli children. Shaffer portrays the hopes, dreams and realities of children on different sides of the Middle East conflict. The series shows that although the subjects live within one mile of each other in the holy and much-contested city of Jerusalem, their lives are such that they can barely imagine life on the other side.

To a Safer Place (1987), which Shaffer directed and co-produced, is a powerful one-hour documentary about a survivor of incest. To a Safer Place was telecast on the CBC, the BBC and the PBS program "Frontline." Widely used by social workers and incest survivors, To a Safer Place was recognized by the American Film Librarians Association as one of the best films of the decade.

Shaffer is NFB producer of Francine E. Zuckerman and Roushell Goldstein's film, Half the Kingdom (1989), a film about Jewish women challenging assumptions as to their place in traditional Judaism.

Although the bulk of her work has been in the documentary genre, Shaffer has at times turned her talents to drama. These include the half-hour drama The Way It Is (1982), about a young girl's reaction to her parents' divorce; Who Should Decide? (1985), one of eight short dramas in the Discussions in Bioethics series.

I Want to Be an Engineer (1983) is a half-hour documentary profiling three women engineers, produced by the NFB in collaboration with several Canadian federal agencies.

Before joining the National Film Board of Canada, Ms Shaffer worked at the flagship PBS station WGBH-TV in Boston on the Emmy award-winning series "Nova" and "Zoom." She received her master's degree in film from Boston University in 1971.

Filmography

Mr Mergler's Gift
Mr. Mergler's Gift

9-year-old prodigy Xin Ben takes lessons from Daniel Mergler, a piano teacher at the end of his career. In this remarkable story about a student and her mentor, Xin Ben and Mergler meet 26 times over the course of one year. During this time, Xin Ben illuminates Mergler's final months as an instructor with her youthful talent, and he, in return, lovingly guides her towards a life in music.

To a safer place
To a Safer Place

This inspiring film is the story of how one woman has come to terms with her life as a survivor of incest. Sexually abused by her father from infancy to early adolescence, Shirley Turcotte is now in her thirties and has succeeded in building a rich and full life. In To a Safer Place, Shirley takes a further step to reconcile her past and present. Her mother, brothers and sister, all of whom were also caught up in the cycle of family violence, openly share their thoughts. Their frank disclosures will encourage survivors of incest to break through the silence and betrayal to recover and develop a sense of self-worth and dignity.

To my Birthmother
To my Birthmother...

Delving into the past is a risky business but for someone who's been adopted, there's a compelling need to know. When Marie Klaassen went looking for her birthmother, she discovered that trying to find her would take perseverance and guts and that succeeding in the search was not the end but another beginning. To my Birthmother... is Marie's frank and earthy account of a personal journey through other times and other places to find the woman who gave her life. Told as a video diary, it's a fascinating story of a reunion fraught with suspense, humour and humanity.

I'll find a way
I'll find a way

This Oscar®-winning documentary presents Nadia, a 9-year-old girl with spina bifida. Her dream is to attend a regular school, even though she knows other kids will tease her. Wise for her young age, Nadia simply decides that she'll "find a way to deal with it." Despite having to overcome many obstacles, Nadia's got spunk and makes it clear she's not looking for sympathy.

Mr Mergler's Gift: 2004, 30 min 39 s Watch online
Short listed for Oscar© for Documentary Short category 2005
To my Birthmother...: 2002, 54 min 38 s Watch online
Just a Wedding: 1999, 56 min 38 s
Half the Kingdom: 1989, 58 min 45 s
To a Safer Place: 1987, 58 min 20 s Watch online
Discussions in Bioethics: Who Should Decide?: 1985, 14 min 08 s
I Want to Be an Engineer: 1983, 28 min 34 s Watch online
The Way It Is: 1982, 24 min 13 s
 

Children of Jerusalem series

Ibrahim: 1996, 23 min 02 s Watch online
Gesho: 1996, 24 min 42 s Watch online
Yehuda: 1994, 26 min 05 s Watch online
Asya: 1992, 29 min Watch online
Yacoub: 1992, 26 min 48 s Watch online
Neveen: 1992, 29 min 09 s Watch online
Tamar: 1991, 29 min 49 s Watch online

Children of Canada series

It's Just Better: 1982, 15 min 23 s Watch online
Julie O'Brien: 1981, 18 min 52 s Watch online
Benoît: 1978, 20 min 23 s Watch online
Veronica: 1977, 14 min 13 s Watch online
Kevin Alec: 1977, 16 min 28 s Watch online
I'll Find a Way: 1977, 25 min 47 s Watch online
Oscar© winner Best Live Action Short 1978
Gurdeep Singh Bains: 1977, 11 min 55 s Watch online
Beautiful Lennard Island: 1977, 23 min 45 s Watch online
My Name Is Susan Yee: 1975, 12 min 18 s Watch online
My Friends Call Me Tony: 1975, 12 min 07 s Watch online
 

Awards

Half the Kingdom

  • Red Ribbon Award , Philosophy and Religion Category, Individuals and Communities, 33 rd American Film and Video Festival, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA, 1991.
I Want to Be an Engineer Watch online

  • Certificate of Creative Excellence , 17 th Annual U.S. Industrial Film Festival, Elmhurst, Illinois, USA, 1984.

The Way It Is

  • Honourable Mention , 16 th Annual National Council on Family Relations Film Festival, Minneapolis, Minn., USA, 1984.
  • Learning A-V Award for Outstanding Educational Film , Learning A-V Magazine, Palo Alto, Cal., USA, 1984.

To a Safer Place Watch online

  • “Best of the 80’s,” Booklist Magazine, Van Nuys, California, USA, 1989.
  • Blue Ribbon Award , Family Relations Category, 30 th American Film and Video Festival, New York, New York, USA, 1988.
  • Certificate of Merit cum laude , Medicanale Internationale, Medical and Scientific Film Festival, Parma, Italy, 1989.
  • Chris Statuette Award , Health and Medicine – Rape/Sexual Abuse Category, 36 th, Columbus International Film Festival, Columbus, Ohio, USA, 1988.
  • Crystal Apple Award , 19 th National Education Film and Video Festival, Oakland, California, USA, 1988.
  • Emily Award , Best Film of Festival, 30 th American Film and Video Festival, New York, New York, USA, 1988.
  • First Place – Gold Award , Family Dynamics Category, John Muir Medical Film Festival, Walnut Creek, California, USA, 1988.
  • Gold Award , Theatrical Feature Film – Documentary Category, 11 th Annual International Film and Video Festival, Houston, Texas, 1989.

Who Will Decide? (one of eight films in the Discussions in Bioethics series)

  • Best Film Series , Health and Medical Issues Category, 30 th San Francisco International Film Festival, San Francisco, USA, 1987.
  • Gold Award (for entire series), Documentary Category, 9 th Annual International Film Festival, Houston,Texas, USA, 1987.

Just A Wedding

  • First Prize, International Disability Film Festival / Breaking Down Barriers, Moscow, Russia, 2002
  • Honourable Mention , Picture This Film Festival, Calgary, Alberta, 2002
  • Best Disability Documentary of 2002 , Disability World Magazine

To my Birthmother Watch online

  • Bronze Plaque , Columbus International Film and Video Festival, Columbus, Ohio, 2002.
  • Leonard Prize , International Medical and Scientific Film Festival, Parma Italy.2003

Mr Mergler’s Gift Watch online

  • 2nd Prize Chicago International Children’s Film Festival, Chicago, U.S.A. 2005
  • Honorable Mention , Reel World Film Festival, Toronto, Canada, 2006
Children of Canada series

Benoît Watch online

  • Grand Prize , 3 rd International Festival of Films for Children and Young People, Lausanne, Switzerland, 1981.
  • Best Children’s Film , International Short Film and Video Festival, Yorkton, Saskatchewan, Canada, 1979.

I’ll Find a Way Watch online

  • Oscar ® for Best Live Action Short, 50th Anniversary Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Hollywood, California, USA, 1978.
  • Nominated for BAFTA, British Academy for Film and Television Arts, Short Factual Film Category, London, England, 1979.
  • AMER Silver Eye Award , Personal Courage Category, 1 st Annual AMER Film Awards, Dubuque, Iowa, USA, 1979.
  • Award of Excellence given by The Film Advisory Board Incorporated, Los Angeles, California, USA, 1978.
  • Best Documentary Film , International Short Film Festival, Tampere, Finland, 1979.
  • Best Film About Children – Best Overall Children’s Film , Childfilm Festival of the Canadian Association for Young Children, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, 1978.
  • Bronze Venus Medallion , Category 21: Educational for Children, Greater Miami International Film Festival, Miami, Florida, USA, 1978.
  • Film recommended for its special interest for teenagers by the International Jury , 16 th International Cinema Contest for Children and Teenagers, Gijon, Spain, 1978.
  • RAI Award , 10 th International Cinema Festival for Children and Young People, Salerno, Italy, 1980.
  • Silver Medal , Short and Medium Length (Health) Category, 8 th International Festival of Red Cross and Health Films, Varna, Bulgaria, 1979.

It’s Just Better Watch online

  • Honourable Mention , Non-traditional Families Category, 16 th Annual National Council on Family Relations Film Awards, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA, 1984.

My Friends Call Me Tony Watch online

  • Best of the Film Festival , 8 th Annual Film Festival on the Exceptional Individual, Los Angeles, USA, 1978.
  • Silver Water Jug , Documentary Category, International Festival of Films for Children and Teenagers, Lausanne, Switzerland, 1977.
Children of Jerusalem series

Asya Watch online

  • Bronze Plaque Award , Social Issues Category, 42 nd Annual International Film and Video Festival, Columbus, Ohio, USA, 1994.

Neveen Watch online

  • Bronze Plaque Award , Social Issues Category, 42 nd Annual International Film and Video Festival, Columbus, Ohio, USA, 1994.

Tamar Watch online

  • Bronze Plaque Award , Social Issues Category, 42 nd Annual International Film and Video Festival, Columbus, Ohio, USA, 1994.
  • Silver Apple Award , Portraits of Places and Communities – Middle School, 24 th National Educational Film and Video Festival, Oakland, California, USA, 1994.

Yacoub Watch online

  • Honourable Mention , Social Issues Category, 42 nd Annual International Film and Video Festival, Columbus, Ohio, USA, 1994.
  • Silver Apple Award , Portraits of Places and Communities – Middle School, 24 th National Educational Film and Video Festival, Oakland, California, USA, 1994.
  • Special Jury Award , 30 th Short Film and Video Festival, Yorkton, Saskatchewan, Canada, 1994.

General

Reinventing Our Legacy (2017)

A film by Prof. Nancy J. Adler and Academy Award®-winning filmmaker Beverly Shaffer

“In today’s trust-starved climate, our market-driven system is under attack ...large parts of the population feel that business has become detached from society, that business interests are no longer aligned with societal interests ...The only way to respond to this new wave of anti-business sentiment is for business to take the lead and to reposition itself clearly and convincingly as part of society.”

—Klaus Schwab, President of the World Economic Forum

How can business leaders simultaneously optimize financial, societal, and environmental performance? How can they help to create a peaceful, prosperous, sustainable society that benefits us all?

Kofi Annan, in his role as United Nations Secretary General, strongly expressed his belief in business’s potential to co-create society’s success:

“Let us choose to unite the power of markets with the strengths of universal ideals…let us choose to reconcile the creative forces of private entrepreneurship with the needs of the disadvantaged and the requirements of future generations.”

Directed by Academy Award winning film maker Beverly Shaffer, Reinventing Our Legacy highlights the perspectives of eight McGill MBAs from Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Americas as they discuss their appreciation of the challenges facing 21st-century society and their future role as business and societal leaders to meet those challenges.

 

Whatever happened to the Children of Jerusalem

by Naomi Zeveloff

Editor’s Note: ‘What Ever Became of the ‘Children of Jerusalem,’” a longform story by Naomi Zeveloff about the fates of seven Israeli and Palestinian children who starred in a 1990’s Canadian documentary series, is the 2016 Sigma Delta Chi award winner for Non-Deadline Reporting.

Between 1991 and 1996, seven Israeli and Palestinian children starred in a Canadian documentary series about life in Jerusalem. Though they grew up within miles of one another, they lived worlds apart, never to meet. A quarter-century later, I set out to find them.

I learned about the obscure series, called “Children of Jerusalem,” from my editor. He had learned about it from his 6-year-old daughter, who discovered it while surfing the Internet for shows about children from faraway lands. “I wonder if it would be interesting to do something about where the kids in the film wound up and what happened to the filmmaker,” my editor said in an email. It sounded like a story and possibly an adventure.

The piece was also an opportunity to look at how Jerusalem shapes its children. Israelis often tell me that the only people who can appreciate Jerusalem are those who grew up there, as if a childhood spent in the white stone city unlocks it for a lifetime.

Continue reading

 

Touching People (Cinema Canada, 1978)

by Alexandra McHugh and Susan Schouten Levine

From McGill to Boston and "Zoom" and back again to Montreal and Studio D at the NFB was not the route that Beverly Shaffer ever imagined would lead her to Hollywood. But her straightforward look at one of Canada's children did the trick. Below, she speaks about her techniques and Tom Waugh re- views her film, I'll Find a Way.

Continue reading

 

Archives

Jewish Public Library Archives link to Beverly Shaffer Fonds - The Canadian Jewish Heritage Network
NFB's Directors Archives; Shaffer, Beverly. Box number 12589, file number 036867.

Contact Beverly Shaffer

Comments on Mr. Mergler's Gift

Alexandra (Sacha) Patera

Dear Beverly Shaffer,

I have not yet seen your film "Mr. Mergler's Gift". Fortunately I count myself among many of Mr. Mergler's students who received his gift. I studied the piano with Mr. Mergler every Friday evening for nearly ten years until I started University. I learned so much more than music from Mr. Mergler. He had a most profound impact on my life. I miss him. Thank you for making a film about him. I am sure he would be so pleased.

-Alexandra (Sacha) Patera


Rebecca Duchow

When my late husband Marvin Duchow was a very young man, studying for his bachelor of music at McGill Conservatory, he became the private teacher of the two young Mergler children, Daniel, and his older brother Leo. Daniel became a music teacher in Montreal, and Leo, after returning from volunteering in the Spanish Civil War, became a psychiatrist.

I had known Daniel for quite a number of years and sometimes we met walking in the neighbourhood and we would stop to chat. Years passed and he never seemed to age - he never spoke of his illness. It was a terrible shock to learn of his death. Recently, I had the great pleasure of attending the launch of the remarkable documentary MR. MERGLER'S GIFT at the Montreal World Film Festival. The film tells the story of a dedicated special piano teacher, Mr Mergler, his chance meeting at a park bench with Xin Ben Yu whose intuitive musical gifts produce an artistry beyond her youthful years.

Sadly, Daniel Mergler is no longer here, but he will be loved and remembered by many. The Foundation established for scholarships in his name will continue his legacy at the McGill Conservatory of Music.

All best wishes to Xin Ben for continuing growth in her chosen field of music, and all best wishes to her parents.

Rebecca Duchow, 85 years old

Wife of the late Marvin Duchow, Dean of the Faculty of Music at McGill University


Grace

I had lost touch with Daniel as his health got worse.
But he was to me both a friend and spiritual mentor during very hard times in my life (specially after my mother passed away). We met in 1996, when I was working and studying during my first year of university.

An interesting and deep friendship developed between us, and lasted for a few years. I sometimes wonder why he came to my life when I really needed strong moral support: growing up as a young woman in this society, coping with school and work for the first time, etc. etc.

But the conclusion I came to is the following:
God has his little angels ready for us when we most need. And so Daniel was one of those angels in my life who guided me through a very decisive period of my life, where my future was starting to shape itself. This was a blessing for me!
It is clear to me: his spirit is still strong among us.
Hope the comments section in the web-site grows with people sharing their own unique experiences with Daniel. And hope as well that Xin-Ben grows into a beautiful pianist who can pass on her talent to others, or help others discover that hidden artistic talent.
If I can be of any further assistance please let me know. I'll gladly share what I know of Daniel and his passion for music.
Thanks,
Grace.

What a beautiful movie! How lovely it was to see Xin-Ben, Mr Mergler's last pupil. And how sad it was to me to see Daniel's face in his last moments...... But somehow(after crying and sobbing!) I felt this inner peace with myself, for at least I had a last image of him and I could hear his voice. Like always, warm words of wisdom about his love and passion for music. Indeed, this is Daniel Mergler.


Ellie Birnbaum

Dear Beverly Shaffer:

As a past student of Mr. Daniel Mergler, I made it a point to see the movie you directed at the festival last week ( I was in town from Toronto and extended my visit in order to see it). And, I wanted to express to you how touched and moved I was by it. The film not only captured the story between him and his last student beautifully, it captured the beauty in him equally well. On behalf of all his ex-students who felt so honoured to have met him and to have shared the love of music with him, I thank you for taking the time and effort to bring this story and his essence to the screen.

Ellie Birnbaum


Mordechai Rubinstein

"Mr. Mergler's Gift" is outstanding and beautiful documentary, it shows Mr. Mergler in his last days of life.
It brought back many memories of this sensitive and gentle person, whom I had the privilege to know for over quarter century. He was the piano teacher of my sons, and for years after they went to study out of town he stayed in touch, always taking interest in their lives He lived in my neighborhood, and I would see him often in the park, in his favorite delicatessen, or walking on the street. He would stop and ask me about my boys, my job, and talk about how impressed he was with some of his students. He lived modestly all his life, never striving for material possessions.

Thanks Beverly for the wonderful and moving film, about the real Mr. Mergler, not afraid to die, devoted to his students to the lat moment of his life. On his deathbed he is finding a new teacher for Xin Ben, his last and most gifted student, making sure that it is not just a teacher, but the best in Montreal.

In this time of wars, suicide bombers, terrorism, and cruelty you made a remarkable movie, wonderful cinematography, that shows that humanity is still alive, and that music and beauty are still with us.

Many thanks,
Mordechai Rubinstein


Jaclyn Solomon

Dear Xin Ben,

When I was 8 years old Mr. Mergler sought me out of a class of 30 and told me I had the gift of music. Thirty years later we still remained friends and he heard my son play piano. His words of wisdom and love of music have remained with me and my family to this day. My children will pass this on to their children- His legacy lives on.

Jackie Solomon
Toronto, Ontario


Mara Merija Kloth

Dear Xin Ben,

Forty years ago I was blessed to meet and know the wonderful friendship of Danny Mergler. We shared a love of music and beautiful things. What a joy and pleasure to meet his little "legacy". May you always hear beautiful sounds and the rendering of them enrich your soul and that of our listeners.

Bonne chance la petite.