Tuesday, September 09, 2008

ACE Film Fest: Music From the Inside Out (NYFA)

Representatives from New York Foundation for the Arts sounded like they really wanted to talk money at the ACE Film Fest. The lead sponsor of the festival, NYFA screened five documentaries made possible by seed money they originally provided. Before each screening they invited filmmakers to come talk to them later about their financing opportunities for documentary projects. (They would not have needed to ask me twice.) Their showcase films all received significant theatrical distribution and usually related to the arts and humanities, like Been Rich All My Life, a profile of the Silver Belles dancers, and Daniel Anker’s Music From the Inside Out (trailer here).

The Philadelphia Orchestra already had a significant claim on cinema history, having recorded the soundtrack to Disney’s Fantasia. With MFTIO, Anker profiled the orchestra over the course of five years and several world tours. While not every musician of the 105-member organization gets individual screen time, Anker shoehorns a good number of them into the film. These are section players, not star soloists, although some, like concertmaster David Kim, had such aspirations. His story of frustrated ambition, giving way to the artistic satisfaction of musical collaboration, is really representative of the spirit of MFTIO.

A surprising number of the musicians Anker interviews actually perform in different styles and genres for their own satisfaction. Adam Unsworth graduated from a jazz program and admits the regimentation of the orchestra is often artistically frustrating for a trained improviser. We then hear a cool performance of Bird’s “Blues for Alice” from Unsworth on French horn, an instrument not heard very often in a jazz context (only Julius Watkins and Vincent Chancey come readily to mind).

We also meet violinists who moonlight as blue grass fiddlers and Udi Bar-David, an Israeli cellist performing traditionally Middle Eastern music with Palestinian oud player Simon Shaheen. Perhaps the busiest crossover musician is principal trombonist Nitzan Haroz, who regularly jams with a salsa band after his symphony concerts.

Even though MFTIO profiles a symphony orchestra, it is more about the emotional resonance of music in general, than classical music specifically. While the film never gets too heavy or dramatic, there are some very effective scenes which convey the power of music to make direct human connections. It was an excellent representative of NYFA’s mission. Though available on DVD, special screenings for community and educational groups seem to be continuing. It is well worth seeing in either format.