While all unique and different, most documentaries tend to tell the same types of stories. Tales of corruption uncovered, environments destroyed, or people in conflict seem to be the most common. Well, those and docs about the music industry. With so many documentaries on the subject of music, or the artists that make it, it's a sub-genre where it's difficult for a filmmaker to get attention. As I looked through the documentary features premiering at the Nashville Film Festival, I noticed there were a lot of big names involved in some of these films. Features like Colin Hay: Waiting For My Real Life and Mom Jovi easily stood out as movies people would be busting down the doors to see. While those looked like (and turned out to be) incredible pieces of work, there was one film that really stood out to me. Shu-De! Below is the description on the festival site that caught my eye.
"Shu-De!" means "Let's go!" in Tuvan. Beatboxer from Baltimore, Shodekeh, has spent his life mastering new sounds. When he is invited to a music festival and throat singing competition half way around the world in Kyzyl, Tuva in Siberian Russia in honor of the legendary Tuvan throat singer, Kongar-ool Ondar, he sets out on a musical journey that bridges cultures by building on the one instrument they have in common - the human body. Featuring performances by Kongar-ol Ondar, Shodekeh, Alash Ensemble, the Tuvan National Orchestra and others.
Now, I won't lie, the first thing that grabbed me was the word Baltimore. Us Marylanders tend to be drawn to anything from or mentioning our cities. The other thing I was drawn to was the fact that the subject was a beat boxer, a musician of the most under-appreciated form. I immediately became interested and researched the film's director. Michael Faulkner, a Baltimore resident by way of the midwest, had done a lot of work on the "most Baltimore" of projects, The Wire. This film was about Baltimore, and by Baltimore. I couldn't wait to see it.
The movie, as I expected, turned out to be a phenomenal study to watch unfold. To see the sights of the Tuvan countryside paired with the most unique and incredible melodies I'd ever heard; I was captured. I could go on and on about the movie, but there was something I found even more profound. After viewing the film, I had the chance to sit down and speak with Mr. Faulkner about his story of making this film, along with the lessons he learned along the way. We were able to cover a lot in our 45 minute phone interview, but I think some of these highlights will give you a chance to dive deeper into the life of an incredible filmmaker, as well as give you an abundance of reasons to put Shu-De! at the top of your must-watch list this festival season.
The first thing I asked Michael was what it was like to work on The Wire. I know it's not super relevant to this particular film, but I'm a Baltimore kid, I couldn't resist. Michael was a location scout for a few years so he got the opportunity to drive around the city, meeting people and exploring things that most people never would have the chance to. He spoke highly of the people he had the chance to meet, and talked of how it greatly influenced the making of Shu-De!
(The Wire) Became a big family; it was basically like making a giant home movie...
Something about the level of familiarity (in the city) that's awesome....People in Baltimore tend to be the most authentic.
All the talk about Baltimore made transitioning into Shu-De! much easier. I was completely drawn in listening to the tale of how Michael came to meet Shodekeh. He described the meeting as being "very Baltimore," as it was one of those everybody knows everybody scenarios. After attending an indie Cabaret in a "hole-in-the-wall" bar in 2006, Michael witnessed Shodekeh get up on stage and do things that no one had really ever seen or heard before. He described it as "taking beatboxing to a whole new level." That night, Faulkner gave his new friend a ride home and planted the seed that would go on to become the film.
I gave him a ride home and while we were talking about his story I told him, "Let's make a movie. Rocky, but with a beatboxer."
After Shodekeh got invited to perform with the Tuvan National Orchestra, Michael saw the perfect opportunity to make this idea a reality. This was the part of the story I was most interested in; how a place like Tuva compared to the rest of the world. Michael described the changes as "a huge culture shock" and noted that most Americans, himself included, had a very different idea what Siberia and its surrounding areas would be like. What Michael went on to explain (and what you'll see in the the film) is that our opinion is exactly the opposite of what their world is really like. He took the next few minutes to talk about some of the things he noticed about Tuva and it's people.
Nothing I thought (about the area going in) was true. Individuals there were very welcoming and guests were treated with honor.
Everyone seemed so much more connected to the processes of life...we were the worst dressed people there.
(Being) on the road was like a boat in the water, just land with no boundaries.
I asked him to elaborate a little more on the "no boundaries" bit. He told me a great story of a scene from the film.
Across from these cows was a gas station. There were no fences stopping them...the cows had nothing at all to moo about, they were totally silent and peaceful.
It took a minute for me to process what that would be like. I saw it on the film, to an extent, but it's a totally different thing to try and imagine seeing face to face. I've been around plenty of farms in my life and I can't imagine watching cows, or any animal for that matter, have the freedom to roam as they please. And then, to be completely silent and content as they did it. In the film, you see the cows wandering and Shodekeh walk up and interact with them. It was so natural and serene it became almost surreal. Like these animals weren't the kind that I grew up seeing down the road, they were almost other-worldly.
At one point, I commented on the cow story - that I could see how that scenario would cause a culture shock. Michael's response actually baffled me. Instead of agreeing, he told me the culture shock didn't really occur while they were there. They were so in the moment, they didn't really have time to process it.
The culture shock was much stronger coming home. You only realized how different it was once you left it.
Before I wrapped up the interview, I had one thing that was really on my mind. Why Shodekeh? I mean, I can see why the interest in his talent, but what about this guy made someone want to follow him across the planet, and what made people in a foreign country fall so in love with him? I asked Michael what was the biggest thing he took from Shodekeh, and I got my answer.
He taught himself (beatboxing). The stamina and persistence he had to have in order to mold this talent that took him around the world. He's all about embodying the concepts he lives his life by...it's inspiring. He's committed to embodying every experience in the present moment.
Watching the film, I understood what he meant. There's something electrifying about seeing another human being embracing every element of their lives when so many of us pick and choose what to love. There's a scene early on in the film where Shodekeh is teaching some Tuvan teens how to dance, and it was one of the purest and most full-of-life moments I've ever seen on film. From that moment on, I knew there world would be a little better off if we all could take on the mantra of Shodekeh, and now Michael: