Music Mission Accomplished?
As the film begins, Fleck and crew get right into the mission at hand. With scant detail about how their odyssey was planned or what research was done in advance, they set off on their adventure, visiting Uganda, Tanzania, Gambia and Mali. Country locations are indicated on a map of Africa, so we're never quite lost - but it's not quite clear whether Fleck actually visited the countries in the order in which the visits are presented in the documentary. Why does this matter? The order of presentation is a key factor in the film's arc - because Mali, the final country presented, seems to have the most sophisticated music scene - not that Malian music or culture is necessarily more sophisticated, but, as we see in the film, the Malian music industry is highly developed, with well-equipped recording studios, popular venues and a galaxy of stars, including the revered Oumou Sangare and others.
That makes us wonder whether Paladino documented and is presenting Fleck's journey of discovery as it occurred, from beginning to end, or did he edit his footage to save the best for last?
What's the Story?
Even more discomforting are some questions that occur when Fleck arrives at the first village he visits in rural Uganda, where people are impoverished but very proud of their culture and traditions. Introduced to the community by a local musician and translator, Fleck pulls out his banjo and begins plucking a romping, fingers flashing, technically intimidatingly bluegrass-y tune. The camera pans to faces of the villagers who look stunned. Not curious. Not enthralled. Just stunned. What, they seem to be wondering, is this show off all about, and how can we equally impress him?
When Fleck joins in the jam on his big bad-ass banjo - even after saying to one of his crew that he can't possibly fit in - he appears to be culturally insensitive, and that's a very offputting impression for him to make at the beginning of the film. Later, you can see that Fleck is genuinely moved by this villagers' music and hospitality - as he should be - and, in other settings, he works at picking up local musical riffs. You want to believe that he's a genuinely good guy, but that initial albeit unintentional Bwana stigma sticks to some extent. It's disruptive, and makes Fleck appear more flaky and less likeable than he undoubtedly is. And that's a shame because he's really this film's connective tissue.
Actually, it would've been good had Fleck, as protagonist, asked more questions of the African musicians and his or their handlers, the answers to which might have provided us with much wanted details and understanding.
More About the Music Please
In short, the film should cover less and tell us more. Presumably the African musicians know Fleck is auditioning them for the record he's making while on his tour, but we're never given a hint of their thoughts about international exposure and its impact on their lives.
Still, Throw Down Your Heart is entertaining. The music, as said, is really good, so see it for that.
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- Throw Down Your Heart - 2008
- Director: Sascha Paladino
- Release Date: 2009
- Running Time: 97 mins.
- Parental Advisory: Content advisory for parents
- Languages: English and French, Bambara, Jola-Fonyi, Swahili (with English subtitles)
- Locations: USA, Uganda, Tanzania, Gambia, Mali
- Company: Argot Pictures