A strong-willed and passionate woman in her nineties recalls her turbulent life,
from World War II Germany to the beaches of 1950s Malibu and beyond.
Born in 1922, Sigrid grew up riding her pony in the forest near her home in Dresden, Germany, but her bucolic youth was interrupted by the emergence of the Nazi regime. She was forced to participate in meetings of the Hitler Youth and subsequently survived the bombing of Dresden and an attack by Soviet soldiers. Finally able to emigrate to the U.S. in 1955, she made a new life for herself working on a horse ranch in Malibu.
The eccentric and endearing Sigrid taught generations of Los Angeles kids to ride horses and hundreds of adults to find joy in painting. Well into her late nineties, Sigrid continued to be active and healthy, making new friends, singing in the choir, and finding joy in every day. Sigrid died in 2020.
Carol Merrill-Mirsky, Director
I first met Sigrid more than thirty years ago when she taught my daughter to ride. We bonded not over horses, but over music. I discovered that she had a deep love for all kinds of music, from classical German art songs to American musicals and folksongs. She often asked me to bring my guitar and sing with the kids at the horse ranch, and over the years we would attend Philharmonic concerts together.
The impetus for the film came in 2013 when she called and asked for my help in putting together a vocal recital at her church. She was 91 at the time and had never performed a solo recital before, but she was keen on doing it. I helped her assemble a program of German lieder and helped her prepare. She was worried about remembering all the words, but I said, “Look, most of the people there won’t understand German. Your job is to tell the story through your eyes and body. Think about the story.” After I said that, a different Sigrid emerged. She acted out the songs with energy, expression and poise. I asked her if she had had any theater training. She said, “Yes. I studied acting at the conservatory in Dresden.”
I said to myself, “There’s more to Sigrid than I knew.” I started talking with her about her life and was moved and fascinated by all she had been through. I proposed doing a film together. She agreed and we began the process. Fortunately, she had many excellent photographs of herself as a child and young woman in Germany and later in Malibu, including Super 8 film shot by her husband in the late fifties and early sixties. Another friend had shot home video of Sigrid in the nineties.
When I came to Matt Miller at Vanishing Angle with my idea for a documentary, he immediately signed on. I had done several projects with Vanishing Angle when I was curator of the Hollywood Bowl Museum. Hoku Uchiyama was a wonderful co-editor on those projects and on revising two of my ethnomusicology fieldwork videos from the eighties. He did most of the main camera work and co-editing on “Sigrid.” The team at Vanishing Angle team was supportive, professional, and wonderful to work with. Even better, they all fell in love with Sigrid and she with them.
My background is as a musician, performer, teacher, curator and ethnomusicologist. I trained in classical music, went on the road as a folk singer, taught music in the public school system in Los Angeles, lived abroad for five years, went back to school and got a Ph.D. in ethnomusicology, went to work at the Hollywood Bowl, and reinvented myself as a cabaret singer in my fifties. Currently, I’m a consultant at the Colburn School in Los Angeles and a film maker, mother, and grandmother.