GOING GLOBAL NEVER SOUNDED SO GOOD
I recently attended a special screening for a film based on the, “L’Orchestra Piazza d’Vittorio.” The film is an outgrowth of a much larger project that when viewed from a detached perspective is nothing short of a modern miracle.
The backstory takes place in in a neighborhood in Rome called the “Piazza District.” It was once home to middle-class-Romans, but now houses the largest ethinc community in Rome. Tunisians, Chinese, East-Indians, Eastern-Europeans, South Americans and Africans all migrated there due to the cheap rents caused by the exodus of wealthier Italians and the decline of he neighborhood to the common vices of drugs, prostitution etc. Yet there were still enough native residents that they were uncomfortable with the diversity that they saw as destroying their beloved Italian culture. There were protests and calls for the interlopers to leave. While some of the Piazza dwellers were decrying the end of homgeniety, a small group of courageous artists saw the crisis as an opportunity to bring the district together.
Led by their doggedly-determined-creative-director Mario Tronco, a neighborhood group formed to do three things for their beloved neighborhood; create a sense of unity, save the local cinema which was going to be turned into a bingo parlor and form an orchestra of musicians from the various ethinc groups and countries that were residing in the Piazza. Not only were they going to do all of this, but they were also going to make a documentary out of it. This film is a record of the remarkable undertaking.
If Tronco and his idealistic association of creative dreamers had any idea as to how hard it would be to not only find musicians that were open to performing but could also play, they might be wielding a grease pencil and crossing off number thirty on their bingo cards. The first part of the film where Tronco and Augustine Ferrente track down able bodied players is almost comical. They encounter hostile Chinese merchants, hustling Hindi music store owners and less than talented, but enthusiastic aspirants. But they continue to proceed on all fronts. Finally, after months of searching, they crack the code by recruiting some local Italian musicians who are friends with an Ecuadorian singer and musician (Carlos Paz Duque), a drummer from Argentina (Raul “Cuervo” Scebba), and a sax player (Javier Girotto) also from Argentina. This becomes the foundation of the orchestra. Duque and Scebba are both highly memorable as Duque’s wife leaves him during the formation of the group, while Scebba lives in a storage space with a small museum of instruments.
From there they find a Cuban trumpet player named Omar Valle who is actually a yogi in disguise, a young, Senagalese griot stud named “Pap” who is playing with a dance troupe and making babies with his new Italian squeeze, a middling but highly entertaining tabla player (Rahis Barthi), his cousin, a hyperkinetic and wide-eyed singer (Mohammed Bilal) and two Tunisians (Houcine Ataa and Ziad Trebelsi). Ataa’s introduction is hilarious as he fends off questions about his personal life by his badgering Italian girlfriend. The cruise chip singer proves to be a more-than-able voice, while his cousin, a graduate with a degree in physics plays a mean oud. There’s more players; a Rom cymbalon player, a haughty sarod player, and a Greek vocalist who eventually leaves because she isn’t able to keep up. It has a “Buena Vista Social Club” vibe, but unlike the BVSC, the creative directors are also trying to get a neighborhood theater turned into an arts showcase for their emerging community–a task equal to the feats of their anti-diluvean-dieties-of-days-gone-by.
A breakthrough comes when they are comissioned for an arts festival that takes place in three months time. Rehearsals go into overdrive while Tronco must overcome language barriers and the erratic lives of his musicians that live on the edge of the streets. It’s fascinating, funny, exhilarting and ultimately inspring to watch it all come together. The message of unity through sound comes through loud and clear and by the end the audience was on their feet, applauding the triumph of the herculean effort. If we weren’t entertained enough, the orchestra then took the stage and performed a forty-minute-set that had everyone bouncing and shuffling through the aisles. The film had become living theater before our very eyes.
One of the things that really resonated for me upon watching this film was that it should be seen by high school students throughout the country. It promotes an organic unity and understanding of disparate cultures and champions determination and will to power visions of lofty pursuit.
The other unique component about the film is that you can rent it directly from Netflix right now. Netflix has created Red Envelope, a division within Netflix that either funds or commissions films for direct-to-dvd release exclusively through their system. If you want to see this inspring film and aren’t a Netflix member go here.. If you’re interested in just getting the music (two cds) you can find it at iTunes.
While a strident, “bend-to-the-rule-of-law” form of unity blares at us from nearly every media orifice, this testament to the universal quality of humanity that transcends boundaries and demarcation needs to be seen and heard by as many people as possible.