Thursday, April 22, 2010

A DRUMMER'S DREAM [Hot Docs review]

~ Canada ~ 2010 ~ 84 min.
Directed & Written by John Walker ~ Producer: Kent Martin
Musicians: Nasyr Abdul Al-Khabyyr, Dennis Chambers, Kenwood Dennard, Horacio “El-Negro” Hernadez, Giovanni Hidalgo, Mike Mangini & Raul Rekow

A remote farm in Ontario's cottage country is the unlikely setting for a summit of some of the world's top drummers who have played with the likes of Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie and Carlos Santana. They are here to teach 40 kids their advanced techniques and the philosophy of drumming. All the drummers are talented and articulate, but Dennis Chambers stands out with a show-stopping performance and lecture about imagination shaping a drummer. The director's love for drumming shines through, but a little more background about each drummer would've been nice. That said, the footage is dazzling and the performances acrobatic. [Hot Docs schedule]

10 Questions with JOHN WALKER

1) Why a doc about drummers? Why not trumpeters or violinists?

I’m not sure why, but there is a camaraderie with drummers you don’t see with other musicians. They are often in the background. So, I wanted to make a film that put them out in the front row. People think that drummers just drum. The power of the drum is unique and in order to master it you have to be humble and understand the underlying forces of nature that propel us.

2) In a nutshell, what do you want audiences to walk away with?

To be exhilarated and inspired that we are all potential drummers. All it takes is two hands, maybe some sticks, and an ability to listen to the rhythms that surround us.

3) How did you get in touch with this camp and their drummers?

My brother-in-law is a member of a well-know jazz family in Montreal. Sayyd Abdul Al-Khabyyr toured internationally with Dizzy Gillespie and the Mercer Ellington Orchestra, and his brother Nasyr, a drummer who also toured with Dizzy was putting this drum camp together.

4) Is documenting drummers different from say coal miners in your earlier film, Men of the Deeps?

Making this film reminded me of them—they have a similar love of life, are hard-working, support each other and have the biggest hearts of anyone you could meet. No, it is not any different.

5) Tech question: The sound is amazing. Any notes about micing and mixing this doc?

The main performances took place in a large 19th-century barn. With the wood and open air between the cracks it was a perfect acoustic space for drums. Mic placement is everything. We set up a 24-track location board and recorded directly to ProTools with a mixing engineer. We pre-mixed the music with a drum consultant before the final film mix.

6) Plans for the film (i.e. TV broadcast, festivals)?

We plan to test the theatrical market in the US and have event screenings that build the audience for DVD sales. The Canadian broadcasters are Super Channel, TVOntario, Knowledge, SCN and Canal D in Quebec.

7) Why are there so few girl drummers?

In the past there weren’t many role models for women. Thankfully that is changing rapidly.

8) Who is the world's greatest unsung drummer, dead or alive?

I would like to acknowledge all the indigenous drummers around the world who had their drums taken away by imperialist missionaries who were afraid of the power of the drum.

9) What instrument(s) do you play?


10) Why are you playing at the end of the film?

Long story....In 1969, my Montreal band was invited by Frank Zappa to open his concert in Haight Ashbury, California. The thing is, a few days later I was offered a summer job in a film studio....Tough choice....My wise bandleader said, “We’ll consult the I Ching,” who revealed that I faced two roads and whatever choice I made would be for life. Eventually, I gave away my drums and never touched a pair of sticks again. A painful choice that resonated for years. Almost 40 years later while filming: all week watching these masters play I was thinking of the choice I had made to give up the drums. I didn’t tell anyone that I used to be a drummer. I kept telling the students when they tried to get me to play, "I’m not a drummer, I’m a filmmaker." On the last day at a jam, the students picked their moment and handed me the sticks. I couldn’t refuse this time. I was intimidated beyond belief: this was a language I had abandoned so many years ago. The joy of playing brought me right back and I realized, "Once a drummer, always a drummer.

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