We are very excited to announce our new feature documentary Lowdown Tracks is having its world premiere at Hot Docs International Festival April 25, 2015. This has been a long journey coming….
We started conceiving this film eight years ago. It all started when I went to a benefit concert that my friend Lorraine Segato (Parachute Club) was putting on for the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee. Lorraine did something amazing that night – Parachute Club was the house band but the headliners were homeless musicians, street poets, and dancers whom she’d discovered with the help of organizations like SKETCH in Toronto. It was a magical night, and I kept wondering about the stories behind the songs. Who were these talented people, and how did they end up on the street?
A few years later I was part of the inaugural CFC-NFB Feature Documentary Lab, and Lorraine’s concert was part of an idea I was developing. I realized it should be a separate film, and began to raise money for it. It started off as an attempt to replicate the original concert, but widen to film the search for the musicians. Lorraine and Deb Parks and I spent hours sitting around trying to figure out how to do this, because you really can’t go back. But we also knew there was an idea there – a way to reframe the way we see homeless people through music.
As we started to look for people to film, we realized that the “concerts” were already happening – right out on the street. We found some incredible people, whose stories were so complex and compelling, that their music became part of the story telling. It was all about recording them properly. We’d go out with our sound recordist who’d use up to seven microphones, hidden in leaves or garbage bins…all to get the real feel, but do the music justice. We filmed and recorded where they busked, where they lived, or at places that were meaningful to their stories in some way. The field recordings would be used in constructing the film.
I’d been reading a book about Allan Lomax, who had done field recordings across America with his father John, during the Great Depression. Those recordings are now iconic – Leadbelly and Woody Guthrie among them – but what fascinated me were the stories of the washerwomen, the unknown rhythms of the poor and the dispossessed. Those recordings came to symbolize the era, and so many of the stories we were hearing had the same feeling. Even the imagery, dogs and boxcars, tracks and bridges, shelter rooms, along with the re-emergence of folk, hobo music echoed those times. Allan Lomax’s archive was a huge inspiration as we kept struggling with how to tell these stories.
But of course 2015 is not the Great Depression, when one out of four people were out of work and migrant camps were overflowing. In those days everyone shared the pain, but today it seems that people on the “outside” are pushed into the shadows. Out of rhythm, out of luck, or out of support, they fall in the cracks and as we heard over and over again, they feel shut out and voiceless. Lowdown Tracks is all about hearing those voices, and if you love music like I do, its about the power of song as narrative and the power of music to heal. It’s a view from the ground – a soundtrack of the lowdown, from those who tell it like it is.
WE have loved working on this project, every day we filmed, recorded, or spent in the edit room was a good day for us. Once the film is finished (its literally being finished now).
I’ll write more about the people in the film.